Europe

Obituary: Former Irish finance minister Brian Lenihan

Irish Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, 21 November 2010
Image caption Mr Lenihan has cut a controversial figure in the tumult of the Irish financial crisis

Life had not been easy for Ireland's former finance minister Brian Lenihan in recent years.

After taking office in May 2008, he saw his country battered by the global recession, and finally forced to accept a rescue package worth billions of euros from the EU.

The 52-year-old continued to serve in the government while undergoing a long programme of intensive chemotherapy and radiotherapy to fight a pancreatic tumour discovered at the end of 2009.

But friends and observers spoke of a man who retained a cheerful demeanour and lost none of his political drive.

Any assessment of Mr Lenihan's achievements would be coloured by wider opinions about the role of Irish politicians in the country's dizzying economic boom and bust.

He saw through three budgets in the space of 18 months as the crisis took hold, and was central to the establishment of the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) - the "bad bank" set up to absorb toxic Irish property loans with the aim of improving the availability of credit.

He repeatedly referred to the debts of one of the main offending banks - Anglo Irish Bank - as "manageable".

That characterisation was rejected by many Irish taxpayers, who baulked at the prospect of paying billions of euros of bad debts racked up by the banks while facing years of public spending cuts and tax rises.

Political calling

Nevertheless, Mr Lenihan's personal verve and political ambition meant in many eyes he was still seen as a future leader of his Fianna Fail party.

Mr Lenihan was born to a political heavyweight - his father, Brian Lenihan Senior, was a cabinet minister for more than 25 years.

His aunt, Mary O'Rourke has also held high office including a stint as a cabinet minister and his brother is a politician as well.

Mr Lenihan got involved in his first election campaign in 1974 aged 15 - and said that during the four-week election campaign for his father he "learned more in that time about politics than before or since".

He shone academically, studying law at Trinity College, Dublin, and then Cambridge University, before being called to the Irish Bar and going on to spend years in the legal profession.

But he was unable to ignore his political calling. In 1996 he was elected for the Dail, the Irish parliament, in his father's Dublin West constituency in a by-election triggered by his father's death, promising to abolish water rates and fight crime, drugs and high taxes.

He went on to hold three ministerial portfolios - becoming children's minister in 2002 and justice minister in 2007.

Fianna Fail was voted out of government in the 2011 general election, but Mr Lenihan retained his seat in Dublin.

He became the party's deputy leader and its spokesperson on finance.

Mr Lenihan was married to Patricia Ryan, a judge, and they have a son and a daughter.

Image caption Mr Lenihan was described as a social libertarian but a fiscal conservative

Mr Lenihan was described as a social libertarian but a fiscal conservative. He was also said to have an "infectious jauntiness".

His announcement, in January 2010, that he was to undergo treatment for pancreatic cancer while continuing to perform his essential ministerial duties, saw him saluted in the media for his "dignity and determination".

Although he occasionally referred to his condition - "one day I had a pain in my stomach, the next day a life-threatening condition" - Mr Lenihan was generally loath to comment about his illness.

But last September he revealed he had finished his treatment in June, and said the cancer had "stabilised" but remained "a danger". He is not believed to have undergone an operation for the tumour.

Mr Lenhihan died, aged 52, on Friday.