Brian Lenihan has died. As a man, I feel sympathy for him and for his family but I can’t pretend to have admired him as a politician. He was the worst finance minister we ever had, although some would argue that Charlie McCreevy was even more inept. He suffered from the same self-importance as his father, and the same foolish belief in his own infallibility that ultimately worked to the detriment of this country and its citizens.
He was directly responsible for the most disastrous financial decision ever made by a senior Irish government minister.
He served at cabinet in the two worst governments this country ever had: Ahern’s and Cowen’s.
As a person, Brian Lenihan might well have possessed many fine qualities, but the only ones that affected me were the qualities he brought to public life and I’m afraid none of them were good.
We have an old tradition in this country of speaking well of the dead. I would like to say something positive about Brian Lenihan’s time as a cabinet minister but unfortunately I can think of nothing.
Regardless of that, we come to another question. Why did Brian Cowen send a man who was terminally ill to negotiate on Ireland’s behalf during the IMF / EU bailout discussions? Clearly, despite Lenihan’s considerable intellectual gifts, he was not in the sort of physical condition necessary to conduct challenging and confrontational negotiations. This is understandable. He was on a variety of aggressive drugs, and must also have been feeling tired due to his illness.
Therefore, he was unsuited to the task of defending the country’s very survival as a sovereign state, and in due course, predictably, he failed.
What we needed in those negotiations was a hard-nosed fighter, prepared to stay up all night and to issue all manner of blood-curdling threats about collapsing the Euro. Instead, we had a sick and tired man who lacked the physical and mental endurance to stand his ground in the face of attack from European vested interests. And so, in due course, the Irish capitulated, accepting the ludicrous terms of a supposed bailout that carried penal rates of interest. And for what purpose? To pay back the bad debts owed to the German and French banks who financed the deal.
How do we account for this monumental failure of Irish public policy?
In my opinion, there are two causes. Lenihan’s own extraordinarily arrogant belief, in the face of evidence to the contrary, that he was the only man for the job. And Cowen’s dithering, feeble-minded wilingness to pass the buck and send a profoundly sick man into a fight for survival on behalf of the country.
I’m afraid neither Lenihan’s good name nor Cowen’s have survived this disgraceful misjudgement.
Read all posts on Brian Lenihan here