This Brian Lenihan biography is more a series of reflections and memories than a biography in the true sense of that word. Whatever you thought of Brian Lenihan’s decisions and actions as Ireland’s Finance Minister at the outset of the Great Financial Crisis, his character and dignity won him widespread respect.
For the most part that admiration is reflected in this collection of essays. The essayists are Lenihan’s former colleagues, family and friends who recall the personal, political and professional aspects of his life and career, particularly his final years.
Brian Lenihan was appointed Finance Minister at a time of unprecedented difficulty for the Irish economy. He faced extraordinary pressures compounded by personal difficulties when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Many questions remain unanswered about the circumstances surrounding Ireland’s bank guarantee and subsequent bailout programme and although the recollections contained in this Brian Lenihan biography provide insights into those events by some key players close to the Minister and the corridors of power at the time, essentially, this is a collection of personal tributes.
Contributors to this Brian Lenihan biography
The essays in this Brian Lenihan biography include brief contributions by Jim Flaherty, Former Canadian Finance Minister and Christine Lagarde, former French Finance Minister alongside pieces by names now familiar from the crisis such as Alan Ahearne and Patrick Honahan.
The recollections include the intensely personal (Mary O’Rourke, Paul Gallagher) to the more circumstantial (Eamon Ryan). Perhaps the most interesting contribution is “The Poisoned Chalice” essay by the former Irish Finance Minister, Ray McSharry who argues that Lenihan and Cowen, through the bank guarantee, saved the euro but failed to utilise the leverage that gave them — a failing he also attributes to the current Government.
“Incidentally, I should add that the current Government is also under-estimating the leverage that our membership of the EU still gives Ireland. I think Ireland should be taking a tougher stance to bring about a write-off on our bank debts. We should not forget that the European Council requires unanimity to effect change in major policy areas. I think that some night that our vote is required we should insist that the price of our vote is a deal on our banking debts.”
Other contributors include Brian Murphy, Cathy Herbert, John Mullen, Martin Mansergh, Marie Louise O’Donnell, Harmon Murtagh, John Trethowan and Jillian Van Turnhout. The introduction is by Noel Whelan.
Striking a balance for the greater good
The Appendices in this Brian Lenihan biography include Dáil tributes following Lenihan’s death. Also included is the text of Lenihan’s Michael Collins Commemorative Lecture at Beal na Bláth on 22 August 2010.
In that speech, Lenihan said “the job of Government is to strike a balance between the legitimate interests of individual groups and the greater good.” Arguably, that’s precisely where government appears to get things generally wrong by having too much regard for the great and the good, too little for the greater good.
Brian Lenihan In Calm and Crisis is edited by Brian Murphy, Mary O’Rourke and Noel Whelan and published by the Irish Academic Press, 2014. Proceeds from sales of the book go to the Irish Cancer Society.