Brian Lenihan’s illness may force him to focus on what matters to all of us
5 January, 2010
Though I’m far from being a FF supporter (you may have detected this), I have developed a growing respect for Brian Lenihan, and I’m upset at his misfortune.
He was quoted as saying yesterday “My doctors have advised that I am fit to continue to fulfil my duties. If that position were to change in the course of my treatment, I would be the first to recognise it ……. At all times, I will act in the best interests of the country and in accordance with any medical advice received.” He said he would not be accepting speaking engagements in the next few months but would continue to fulfil the essential functions of his office, attend Government meetings and remain accountable to Dáil Éireann. He said he was satisfied that he could perform his essential functions as Minister for Finance.
It won’t be easy for him to keep up the work rate that he has adhered to in the past year, and he recognises that something has to give. For the sake of the country, I hope that he cuts back on constituency work rather than Ministerial work, to the extent that such re-balancing is necessary. As a country we have in the past suffered badly as a result of our crazy political and electoral arrangements which require serving Ministers to spend inordinate amounts of time “minding” their constituency.
A stark example of this is available on the web: details of Brian Lenihan’s own Ministerial diary for September 2008 to March 2009, a period of extreme difficulty in the affairs of the country and a time when you would imagine that, of all people, Mr Lenihan (as Minister for Finance) would be avoiding non-urgent constituency commitments. But it’s clear from browsing through his diary that he was still devoting a very large amount of time to constituency clinics, and to local dinners and other functions. This is not a way to run a country, or even a Government department.
However, from what Mr Lenihan said yesterday, the signs are promising. He was asked about how his illness might affect his long-term political future, and he was quoted as replying: “I’m very focused on the long term in the department and the economy and I’m thinking that way, but ambitions somewhat fade when you’re in a position like this and you focus on survival yourself and doing your job right.”
It’s sad that it takes an illness like this to force a Minister to do what we really need them to do all of the time: devote 100% of their energies to the proper management of the country, and none to the job of securing their Dáil seat for the next election.
But we shouldn’t leave such matters to chance. It’s time we looked at changing our constitution to provide for Ministers to be appointed from outside the ranks of sitting TDs. This is one of the institutional changes that many (notably Dan O’Brien) see as essential if we are to avoid further crises in the future.