OBITUARY: Brian Lenihan

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The Independent Online
Brian Lenihan served in a host of Irish cabinet posts, including three spells as foreign minister, an indication of his unusual popularity - and, latterly, of his unbending support for his leader Charles Haughey.

In 1990, 33 years after he was first elected to the Senate, Lenihan was Fianna Fail's natural choice to run as its 1990 Presidential candidate. His self- deprecating manner attracted the goodwill of even the strongest political opponents.

Lenihan had courted controversy with abrasive remarks as foreign minister which raised British hackles. But at home his easy-going style had seen through changes such as the ending of widespread censorship of books. He was one of the "men in mohair suits", expedient younger Fianna Fail leaders associated with the rising new business class, known for enjoying life to the full.

Though his own electoral successes were mixed - he entered the Dail at the third attempt and lost his seat temporarily in 1973 - he was a valued adviser to Haughey after he replaced Jack Lynch in 1979. Lenihan had earlier tasted cabinet power at Justice, Education and Transport before his first spell as foreign minister in 1973.

His tenure at Justice generated one of Irish politics' most notorious moments. When caught drinking after hours in a pub in a garda raid, Lenihan instantly sank any prosecution with the rhetorical offer to the boy in blue: "Will it be a pint or Ballyshannon?" (a posting in Donegal equivalent to Siberia). Such unwillingness to take anything too seriously (his personal catch-phrase "No problem" became part of the national vocabulary) was typical.

Revelations about his phone calls to a previous president in an attempt to avert a general election saw his 1990 campaign collapse. When he was dismissed from the cabinet, Irish newspapers talked of "political cannibalism" as Haughey appeared to survive at Lenihan's expense. Lenihan won more first-preference votes but, aided by transfers from the Fine Gael third- placed candidate, the Labour-backed Mary Robinson pulled ahead.

Lenihan's practical side often appeared from somewhat foggy presentation and round-about logic. A regular attender at the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation at Dublin Castle, he sought out areas of agreement, as when establishing a Loyalist and Republican consensus on seeking restoration of 50 per cent remission for paramilitary prisoners in British jails.

The SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon paid tribute to Brian Lenihan's commitment to non-violence in Irish affairs. "His influence has led to the situation where we will now be able to solve our problems by peaceful means," he said.

Alan Murdoch

Brian Joseph Lenihan, politician: born Dundalk, County Louth 17 November 1930; TD for Roscommon/Leitrim 1961-73, Dublin West 1977-95; Minister for Foreign Affairs 1973, 1979-81, 1987-90, Member of the European Parliament 1973-77; Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) 1987-90; married 1958 Ann Devine (four sons, one daughter); died Dublin 1 November 1995.

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