A very public illness

Some days ago I wrote a post in which I asked some questions about what is, and what is not, appropriate in terms of media coverage of a person’s private life. The trigger for that post was the news item that had been carried a couple of days earlier by the Irish television station TV3 about Irish Finance Minister Brian Lenihan’s health, revealing that he had cancer. The comments responding to my post were lively, and a majority of those commenting took the view that TV3 had been justified, while some (myself included) wondered whether the timing had been necessary or right.

Of course since then the Minister has made a public statement on his health, confirming that he has pancreatic cancer and explaining the treatment that will now follow, beginning with chemotherapy. He also confirmed that it is his intention to continue in his role as Minister for Finance, though he would review that if he felt that he could not give the job his proper attention.

I should perhaps say that I have known Brian Lenihan for some considerable time. He and I were students together in TCD in the 1970s, and we have been friends for some time. He was one of the brightest law students of his generation, but he was also always extraordinarily generous in his attitude to others, and in subsequent years he became a very gifted academic and, then, politician. I hope I am not misusing this platform when I say that I am sure that everyone reading this will join me in wishing him a speedy recovery to full health.

But I also have to say that I applaud his decision to continue as Minister. In saying this I am not making a political comment, nor am I here saying anything about the merits of his politics or that of the government. Rather I am saying that as someone who is recognised as a highly talented politician, he is right to want to continue to apply his talents to the very difficult economic circumstances in which we find ourselves. But more than that, I am applauding his decision to be a role model for those who also face this kind of challenge to their health. Medical experts say that maintaining a professional focus during treatment for cancer enhances the patient’s chances of recovery.

Those who have expressed doubts about his continuing as Minister have, understandably, suggested that the country’s economic health cannot be a secondary consideration at this time, and of course that is right. But that does not mean that we must assume that Brian Lenihan as a cancer patient is less able to address the tasks that come with his office, or at any rate that he is less able to address them than anyone who might be appointed in his place.

I think that sending the signal that once you have cancer you cannot be trusted with anything important would be a devastating one to all those who face this still terrible illness. And so I believe that the Minister’s choice is correct. I also believe that he has shown great openness and courage, and I hope that he gets the support and encouragement that he needs.

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3 Comments on “A very public illness”

  1. Vincent Says:

    I neither like nor dislike BL. But I do think his Budgets are just smoke and mirrors for the Financial Markets and given his Profession you would think he could have laid it on a bit thicker. But they have nothing at all to do with the Irish State or its Citizens except where they reflect on those Markets.

    However, and with respect to both you and BL, it isn’t a question of if he can do the job. But one where the perception of a weakness in one who holds the Exchequer portfolio can be exploited. And how much time will be wasted by those near him in just keeping an eye on him.

  2. Aoife Citizen Says:

    I am surprised to have ended up admiring him both as a finance minister and, now, as a hero. I wish him all the best and I am pleased he feels able to carry on in his position, I believe I can trust him to be the judge of his own ability to do so.

  3. Aidan Says:

    It is as a difficult one. In principle having a physical illness should not be a reason to step down but politics is different. At the extreme, the President of the USA doesn’t get to take real holidays. The side effects of cancer treatments are particularly horrendous and certainly not conducive to being on the top of your game to deal with the diasaster that will be NAMA.


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