It is fitting that we remember Brian Lenihan today in this House which he graced for the past fifteen year.
Brian’s passing is deeply felt on all sides of Dáíl Eireann.
Many of us have been numbed by the loss of a brilliant politician, a proud Irishman and, to so many of us here, a great friend.
Brian fought a brave and courageous battle with a serious illness over the past eighteen months.
In all of this time, Brian never once flinched from his public duties and he showed an unceasing and untiring commitment to tacking the economic crisis facing this country.
Even when receiving debilitating treatment, Brian continued to work assiduously in the best interests of this country. For Brian Lenihan, that was always paramount.
Brian’s commitment in doing his utmost for the Irish people defines modern patriotism and all that is laudable in our politics.
His loss to Irish public life is immense.
Brian Lenihan was a superb lawyer and academic as well as being a politician of rare ability and great talent.
He had already accomplished much on Ireland’s behalf and had the potential to achieve so much more.
He was a politician with few peers and a man in his prime which makes his passing all the more distressing.
To quote William Butler Yeats:
“Soldier, scholar, horseman, he,
As ’twere all life’s epitome.
What made us dream that he could comb grey hair?”
Of course, we could never have been certain that what Brian himself once light-heartedly described in an interview with Sean O’Rourke as his “famous dark indestructible hair” would ever have turned grey!
But all of us would have liked to have seen Brian get the chance to age with dignity and live a much longer life.
As a young man, Brian Lenihan studied law in Trinity College, Dublin, and Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, graduating from both institutions with first-class honours.
He subsequently worked as a barrister and as a lecturer before devoting himself to politics.
He was elected to the Dáil Éireann in the Dublin West by-election in April 1996, following on from the death of his own father, Brian Lenihan Snr, who in his time had also been a much loved and respected political figure in Irish life.
PJ Lenihan, Brian’s grandfather, had also served in this House in the sixties having joined Fianna Fáil in the early 1930s. In his youth, PJ Lenihan had been strongly associated with Michael Collins, but in later life he became a close confidant of Sean Lemass.
I know that last summer Brian was extremely honoured to have been asked to speak at the Michael Collins commemoration where he touched upon his grandfather’s (and his own) admiration for Collins and Lemass as two of Ireland’s greatest ever leaders.
At Beal na Blath, Brian said:
“Years after the Civil War, after a decade as a civil servant, my grandfather joined Fianna Fail, attracted in particular by Sean Lemass who shared many of the same qualities he had admired in Michael Collins: the talent for organisation, great energy and a modernising tendency.”
Brian Lenihan was rightly proud of his family’s immense contribution to public service in this country.
The highest compliment I can pay Brian today is to say that by his own impeccable career he has added further lustre to the proud record of distinction of a truly great political family.
Brian Lenihan was undoubtedly an outstanding public representative of this generation.
He had an unrivalled combination of skills and an unstinting work ethic which he generously put at the full disposal of the Irish people.
He had a formidable intellect and was a gifted communicator.
He was full to the brim of ideas and he had a great grasp of policy.
He was an intellectual powerhouse, but he wore his learning lightly.
He was witty, he was good humoured and he was full of fun.
He was engaging, he had charisma and he loved meeting people.
He was one of the best read people I ever met and though he was a first-rate academic, he had the common touch.
Brian’s academic prowess was not just confined to the law, brilliant though he was in that sphere.
His knowledge of literature and history was also breathtaking.
A former party official and friend of Brian’s told me of a recent conversation he had with Brian on evolving political attitudes to the Presidency in 20th century Ireland.
As part of their discussion, Brian referred in detail to a Dáil debate that had taken place in 1947.
When Brian was asked how he had come across this interesting but slightly obscure information, Brian matter of factly told his stunned friend that he had read every single Dáil debate from the 1940s!
Brian of course read those Dail debates in hard copy. When future scholars come to study the Dail debates of our time, they will have the benefit of on- line technologies and search engines. They will have to do no more than insert the words “Brian Lenihan” to find some of the most outstanding Dáil speeches of the second half of the 1990s, and the first decade of this century. His contributions to this house were consistently erudite and always impressive.
Just as Brian was a voracious reader of history, especially Irish history, he also had an immense passion for languages. He was a Francophile and had a great command of French so much so that in his contacts with the French Finance Minister, Christine Lagarde, Brian would regularly discuss technical and complex fiscal matters with her in French.
Many people will have heard heard Ms Lagarde’s interview at the weekend where she described Brian as “heroic” and as a politician who was “calm, solid and very analytical when we had major issues.” This weekend, the New York Times praised Brian for his “tenacity”, meanwhile, Commissioner Ollie Rehn said “this is a loss which will be shared by many people across the political spectrum in Europe, who have had the honor to know Brian Lenihan as a politician and as a person.” In life and in death, Brian Lenihan is respected at home and abroad as a great statesman. He brought credit and distinction to our country and represented Ireland with superb diplomatic skills in a challenging international environment.
Bhí grá daingean ag Brian don Ghaeilge chomh maith. Mar chúlbhinseoir, d’oibrigh sé go crua chun a chuid Gaeilge a fheabhsú. Tá sceál ag cara Brian faoi chuairt a thug sé ar shiopa leabhair anseo i mBaile Átha Cliath chun Bíobla naofa – as Gaeilge – a cheannach.
Chaith Brian go leor ama sna seachtainí ina dhiaidh sin ag léamh an Bhíobla agus ag déanamh aistriúcháin ar an téacs.
Cinnte, is féidir a rá go raibh a mhodhanna foghlama neamhghnách ach bhí Brian cinnte de gur slí chliste í chun a chuid Gaeilge a fheabhsú agus ag an am céanna a chreideamh a neartú.
Ar bhás Brian, is dóigh liom gur féidir focail Thomáis Uí Chriomhthain a thabhairt chun cuimhne – Ní bheidh ár leithéidí arís ann.
I gcás Brian, is féidir a rá le bród agus le huaigneas nach mbeidh a leithéid arís ann.
As a ministerial colleague, I was privileged to observe Brian Lenihan at close quarters. He had my complete admiration.
He was, quite simply, brilliant and often in a league of his own.
He was a solutions-based politician, with a sharp and incisive mind, and an uncanny ability to get things done.
He served first as Minister of State for Children where it was my pleasure to work closely with him as the then Minister for Health and Children. Brian was a conscientious and compassionate Children’s Minister and he brought forward a number of fresh and valuable policies relating to child protection, childcare and youth justice.
In June 2007, Brian Lenihan was appointed Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. In this Department, he was a reforming and innovative minister with political and legal mastery of his portfolio. He was particularly focused on putting the rights of victims of crime centre stage.
Brian Lenihan’s time in Justice was relatively short and, in May 2008, he was appointed Minister for Finance.
He was in this key economic portfolio when the worst financial crisis to ever hit independent Ireland emerged.
Brian Lenihan faced events at a scale and a pace of magnitude that no other Irish Minister has ever previously had to contend.
He rose to this unprecedented challenge and he never complained.
His performance characterised grace under pressure.
He was tested – and tested hard – but he played a stellar role in meeting the fiscal crisis head-on.
When Ireland was in the eye of the storm, Brian Lenihan never faltered.
Day-in, day-out he continued to step up to the plate and he did not shirk his responsibilities.
He was tenacious and he never gave up.
He did his utmost to communicate with clarity the hugely difficult predicament the country found itself in.
In a hugely volatile and rapidly evolving political and economic climate, Brian Lenihan was always cool and clear-headed in his decision making.
He was willingly to take unpopular choices if he believed these were necessary and in the country’s best long-term interests.
His unyielding determination to do his duty – in spite of a serious illness – was remarkable and inspirational. It was truly a profile in courage.
History will record that Brian Lenihan did an outstanding job in extraordinarily difficult circumstances.
I believe Brian Lenihan will be remembered with affection, gratitude and enduring respect by the Irish people.
The poet Stephen Spender wrote:
“I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns
Endless and singing. ….
The names of those who in their lives fought for life
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s center.
Born of the sun they traveled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honor.”
The ‘Truly Great’ captures the essence of Brian Lenihan’s contribution
Brian’s untimely death robs this country of a hugely talented politician and someone who had so much more to give.
But the greatest loss belongs to Brian’s family, the people who knew him best and loved him most.
I wish to extend my deepest sympathies to Brian’s wife Patricia, his son Tom, his daughter Claire, his mum Mrs Ann Lenihan, his brothers, Conor, Niall and Paul, his sister Anita, his aunt Mary O’Rourke, his extended family and many, many friends.
My own abiding memory of Brian Lenihan is of a politician who was never deflated, who was always optimistic and was always restless to achieve more.
He spent all of his time in politics in vigorous pursuit of the public interest.
He packed so much into too short a life.
And he did it all with great humanity, with wisdom and always with a smile upon his face.
Well done Brian, you have done us all proud. Now rest in peace my friend.
Ar dheis de go raibh a anam.