Brian Lenihan
In office
10 March 1987 – 31 October 1990
TaoiseachCharles Haughey
Preceded byPeter Barry
Succeeded byJohn Wilson
Minister for Defence
In office
12 July 1989 – 31 October 1990
TaoiseachCharles Haughey
Preceded byMichael J. Noonan
Succeeded byBrendan Daly
Minister for Agriculture
In office
9 March 1982 – 14 December 1982
TaoiseachCharles Haughey
Preceded byAlan Dukes
Succeeded byAustin Deasy
Minister for Fisheries
In office
5 July 1977 – 12 December 1979
TaoiseachJack Lynch
Preceded byPaddy Donegan
Succeeded byPaddy Power
Minister for Foreign Affairs
In office
10 March 1987 – 12 July 1989
TaoiseachCharles Haughey
Preceded byPeter Barry
Succeeded byGerry Collins
In office
12 December 1979 – 30 June 1981
TaoiseachCharles Haughey
Preceded byMichael O'Kennedy
Succeeded byJohn Kelly
In office
3 January 1973 – 14 March 1973
TaoiseachJack Lynch
Preceded byPatrick Hillery
Succeeded byGarret FitzGerald
Minister for Transport and Power
In office
2 July 1969 – 3 January 1973
TaoiseachJack Lynch
Preceded byErskine Childers
Succeeded byMichael O'Kennedy
Minister for Education
In office
26 March 1968 – 2 July 1969
TaoiseachJack Lynch
Preceded byJack Lynch
Succeeded byPádraig Faulkner
Minister for Justice
In office
3 November 1964 – 26 March 1968
TaoiseachSeán Lemass
Jack Lynch
Preceded bySeán Lemass
Succeeded byMícheál Ó Móráin
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Justice
In office
11 October 1961 – 3 November 1964
TaoiseachSeán Lemass
Preceded byCharles Haughey
Succeeded byOffice abolished
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Lands
In office
11 October 1961 – 3 November 1964
TaoiseachSeán Lemass
Preceded byNew office
Succeeded byGeorge Colley
Teachta Dála
In office
June 1977 – 1 November 1995
ConstituencyDublin West
In office
June 1969 – June 1973
In office
October 1961 – June 1969
Member of the European Parliament
In office
13 March 1973 – 22 June 1977
ConstituencyOireachtas Delegation
In office
1 June 1957 – 22 May 1961
Personal details
Born(1930-11-17)17 November 1930
Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland
Died1 November 1995(1995-11-01) (aged 64)
Castleknock, Dublin, Ireland
Political partyFianna Fáil
Spouse(s)Anne Devine (m. 1958; d. 1995)
Children7, including Brian and Conor
EducationMarist College, Athlone
Alma mater

Brian Patrick Lenihan (17 November 1930 – 1 November 1995) was an Irish Fianna Fáil politician who served as Tánaiste from 1987 to 1990, Minister for Defence from 1989 to 1990, Minister for Agriculture from March 1982 to December 1982, Minister for Fisheries from 1977 to 1979, Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1987 to 1989, 1979 to 1981 and January 1973 to March 1973, Minister for Transport and Power from 1969 to 1973, Minister for Education from 1968 to 1969, Minister for Justice from 1964 to 1969, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Justice and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Lands from 1961 to 1964. He served as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1961 to 1973 and from 1977 to 1995. He served as a Senator for the Industrial and Commercial Panel from 1957 to 1961 and 1973 to 1977. He also served as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Oireachtas from 1973 to 1977.[1]

He was a member of a family political dynasty; his father, Patrick Lenihan, and sister both followed him into Dáil Éireann; his sister Mary O'Rourke sitting in cabinet with him. Two of his sons, Brian Lenihan Jnr and Conor Lenihan, became TDs in the 1990s. Brian Lenihan Jnr served as Minister for Finance and Conor was Minister of State in the government of Taoiseach Brian Cowen. Two phrases associated with Lenihan Snr, No problem and On mature recollection, entered the Irish political lexicon.[citation needed]

Early life

Born in Dundalk, County Louth, Lenihan was the son of Patrick Lenihan and Anne Scanlon. His father had been active in the Irish Republican Army, which saw action during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. He had been an admirer of Michael Collins and took the pro-Treaty side in 1922, before later returning to his studies and qualifying as a teacher.

Lenihan, who was one of five children, grew up in Athlone. He was educated at Marist College in the town before later studying law at University College Dublin, where he was actively involved in the Law Society as a Committee Member, and also played football for UCD, scoring against Sligo Rovers in the 1952/53 FAI Cup. He later qualified as a barrister from King's Inns. He then practised law for a few years before becoming a full-time politician.

Political career


Lenihan first entered politics in 1954, when he ran as a Fianna Fáil candidate in Longford–Westmeath in that year's general election. Of the four Fianna Fáil candidates, Lenihan was the only one not to be elected.

Three years later Lenihan contested the 1957 general election, this time in the Roscommon constituency. Although he received more first preferences than any of the other Fianna Fáil candidates, he lost out on a Dáil seat once again. In spite of this, he became a Senator as one of Taoiseach Éamon de Valera's nominees.

After four years as a Senator, Lenihan finally secured a seat in Dáil Éireann, following his success at the 1961 general election in Roscommon.[2] He had the distinction of being made a Parliamentary Secretary on his first day in the Dáil as a TD, serving under both Minister for Lands Mícheál Ó Móráin and Minister for Justice Charles Haughey.

Minister for Justice

A cabinet reshuffle saw Lenihan join the cabinet of Seán Lemass in 1964, as Minister for Justice. His predecessor in the office, Charles Haughey, systematically reviewed, repealed or amended Acts dating back 700 years in the single largest reform of the Irish civil and criminal code ever undertaken. Lenihan carried the legislative programme, covering everything from repealing mediæval laws to granting succession rights to married women. As Minister, it was Lenihan who repealed Ireland's notorious censorship laws.[3][4] Controversially he also suggested that Ireland should rejoin the Commonwealth of Nations, though it is unclear whether that suggestion actually reflected his opinion or whether he was simply raising the issue at Lemass's request to gauge public reaction.

Minister for Education

In 1968, Lemass's successor Jack Lynch appointed Lenihan as Minister for Education. As Minister, he controversially proposed[citation needed] the merger of Dublin's (then) two universities, Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and University College Dublin (UCD).[5] The scheme was abandoned after mass opposition, Lenihan famously being forced to flee student protests in Trinity through a toilet window. Lenihan was also Minister during a 19-day secondary teachers' strike in February 1969.[6]

Minister for Transport and Power

Following the 1969 general election, Fianna Fáil returned to power for a fourth successive term of office. Lenihan had hopes of further promotion within the cabinet, however, his appointment as Minister for Transport and Power was largely seen as a demotion.

Minister for Foreign Affairs

In 1973, Patrick Hillery was appointed as Ireland's European Commissioner, upon the Irish entry to the European Economic Community. Lenihan then finally secured his much sought-after portfolio, that of Minister for Foreign Affairs. His tenure was short-lived, as the government fell and a new Fine Gael-Labour Party government took office, following the 1973 general election.

Political return

Lenihan also dramatically lost his Roscommon–Leitrim seat. He once again became a Senator, becoming his party's leader in the upper house. In 1973, he was appointed a member of the second delegation from the Oireachtas to the European Parliament.

He moved his political base from rural Roscommon to Dublin West, where he was elected as a TD at the 1977 general election, which saw a landslide victory for Fianna Fáil. Jack Lynch appointed him Minister for Forestry and Fisheries.

At Lynch's retirement in 1979, Fianna Fáil saw a leadership battle between Charles Haughey (the radical republican candidate) and George Colley (the party establishment candidate and mild republican). Lenihan dismissed the choice as being between a "knave and a fool". He also described himself as being the "x in Oxo"[7] He was believed to have backed Colley. Years later he claimed he had actually supported Haughey, but not everyone accepted this assertion.

Haughey, seeking to weaken the faction supporting Colley, appointed Lenihan as Minister for Foreign Affairs, a post he held until Fianna Fáil lost power in 1981. His period in Foreign Affairs was overshadowed by a comment made after an Anglo-Irish summit between Haughey and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, when he spoke of Britain and Ireland being able to bring about Irish unity within ten years, a comment which infuriated the British and Northern Ireland unionists and which undid much of the goodwill achieved by the summit. His comments, at a time of major problems within Northern Ireland, with the Provisional IRA and Irish National Liberation Army campaigns in full swing along with Ulster Defence Association and other loyalists conducting reprisals were widely criticised in the Irish media as insensitive, especially as Irish unity had not even been on the agenda of the summit. One newspaper columnist commented simply "there goes Brian, pointlessly talking himself into trouble again".[8] In 1982, when Fianna Fáil regained power for what would prove only ten months, Lenihan was appointed Minister for Agriculture, the announcement in the Dáil being greeted by a sustained round of laughter on the opposition benches.[citation needed]

Anglo-Irish Agreement opposition

In opposition, Lenihan and Haughey attracted some international criticism when, against the advice of senior Irish-American politicians Senator Edward Kennedy and Speaker Tip O'Neill, they campaigned against the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which the government of Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald had signed with the British government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The agreement gave Ireland an advisory role in the governance of Northern Ireland. In 1987, Fianna Fáil returned to power and Lenihan was for the third and final time appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs, with the additional post of Tánaiste (deputy prime minister). In power Haughey and Lenihan reversed their opposition to the Anglo-Irish Agreement, Lenihan attending meetings of the Anglo-Irish Conference which the Ireland's Foreign Minister and the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland co-chaired.

Liver transplant

Lenihan's last period as Minister for Foreign Affairs was overshadowed by his serious ill-health. A long-standing liver problem had developed into a life-threatening issue requiring a liver transplant. Lenihan, previously a large-framed man, had been reduced to a bone-thin jaundiced-looking shadow of his former self, so ill-looking that the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Tom King, said afterwards that on seeing Brian at an Anglo-Irish Conference meeting, he had speculated as to whether Lenihan would die at the meeting.[citation needed] In May 1989, Lenihan underwent the liver transplant at Mayo Clinic in the United States. In his absence he was re-elected to the Dáil in the 1989 general election for Dublin West, after which, while remaining Tánaiste, he was made Minister for Defence. Lenihan returned to Irish politics with a new lease of life. When he entered the Dáil chamber he received an ovation, an indication of his personal cross-party popularity.

It was revealed subsequently that Lenihan's operation was partly paid for through fundraising by Taoiseach Charles Haughey, from businessmen with Fianna Fáil links. In evidence to the Moriarty Tribunal investigating Haughey's finances, it was established that much of the money raised but not ultimately needed for the operation was redirected by Haughey into his own personal bank account.[9] Haughey was revealed in the 2006 tribunal report to have been engaged in numerous acts of corruption, to finance a lifestyle considerably in excess of his earnings as a politician.

Presidential candidate

In January 1990, leaks to the media suggested that Lenihan was considering seeking the Fianna Fáil nomination in the 1990 presidential election, which was due in November 1990. Speculation abounded that this was part of a plan to discourage other parties from running candidates in the belief that Lenihan would prove unbeatable and so get the office unopposed. Labour Party leader Dick Spring indicated that Labour would run a candidate for the presidency, even if he had to stand himself. Ultimately, Labour chose former Senator Mary Robinson as its candidate.

Lenihan was generally perceived as an unbeatable candidate, though he did receive a late challenge for the nomination from cabinet colleague John Wilson.[10] However, in September 1990, Lenihan was formally nominated as his party's candidate. The main opposition party, Fine Gael chose Austin Currie, a TD and former Northern Ireland cabinet minister, to be its candidate.

Lenihan had a serious flaw. Though regarded by those who knew him personally as an intellectual heavyweight, he presented himself as a lightweight, semi-comic politician—the "clown prince" of Irish politics, in the words of long-time friend and journalist John Healy. He was once described by Fine Gael politician John Kelly as "like a lighthouse in the Bog of Allen, brilliant but useless". During leadership campaigns against Charles Haughey in the 1980s, Lenihan had regularly appeared on television to insist that Fianna Fáil was not divided, even as ministers were resigning and—in an incident involving Jim Gibbons—scuffles broke out in the environs of Leinster House.[citation needed] Lenihan's image was dealt a further blow by a disastrous Late Late Show special devoted to him, which was broadcast only weeks before the presidential campaign started. Colleagues and friends projected an image of him as a political cute hoor—someone who would do anything and pull any stunt that he had to. As a result, Lenihan was mistrusted.

The Lenihan tape

The issue of Lenihan's trustworthiness became the central issue of the second half of the presidential campaign.

In January 1982, Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald had asked President Patrick Hillery, a former government colleague of Lenihan's, to dissolve the Dáil, a request which Hillery granted.[11] If President Hillery had refused a dissolution, Charles Haughey as Leader of the Opposition, could have formed an alternative government and strengthened his own embattled position as leader of Fianna Fáil. Subsequently, it was reported in books by authors Stephen O'Byrnes and Raymond Smith, and by many political journalists in newspaper articles (some of whom had Lenihan as their source) that Lenihan had been one of the people who had made phone calls to Áras an Uachtaráin, the President's official residence, on the night in question, in order to persuade or pressure Hillery to refuse a dissolution. Lenihan himself never denied his involvement in the incident. Indeed, in May 1990, he confirmed his participation in an on-the-record interview with a postgraduate student and journalist, Jim Duffy. In September 1990, The Irish Times carried a series of articles on the presidency, one of which mentioned in passing the role of Lenihan, Sylvester Barrett, and Charles Haughey in making the calls. The article in question was sourced from Duffy's interview.

In October 1990, in the midst of the presidential election, Lenihan suddenly changed his story. In an interview in the Irish Press and on RTÉ's Questions and Answers programme, he insisted that he had had "no hand, act or part" in efforts to pressure President Hillery. The Irish Times, which was aware that Lenihan himself was Duffy's source for the original article claim, published, with Duffy's agreement, a newspaper story confirming that Lenihan had indeed made the controversial phone calls to Áras an Uachtaráin. When Lenihan's campaign manager, Bertie Ahern, named Duffy on radio as someone who had interviewed Lenihan back in May, a political storm erupted in which the journalist was put under siege by the media and Fianna Fáil, leading to his reluctant decision, after consulting with lawyers, to release the portion of the tape in which Lenihan talked about the events of January 1982.

"On mature recollection"

Lenihan's reaction severely damaged his credibility. He appeared on a live TV news bulletin, and, looking into the camera, pleaded with the Irish people to believe him, stating that "on mature recollection" he had not phoned President Hillery and his account to Duffy had been wrong. He then requested an audience with President Hillery to seek his confirmation that he made no phone calls. No audience was granted, and his campaign manager Bertie Ahern withdrew the request – though, in a sign of the chaos enveloping the campaign, Lenihan told journalist Charlie Bird that the request was still there until the journalist played back his interview with Ahern, after which Lenihan recorded a new soundbite explaining why the request had been withdrawn.[12]

At this point, the opposition put down a motion of no confidence in the government. The Progressive Democrats, Fianna Fáil's coalition partner, told Taoiseach Charles Haughey that unless Lenihan was either dismissed or an inquiry set up into the events of January 1982, it would pull out of government, support the opposition motion and force a general election. Though insisting that he would put no pressure on Brian Lenihan, "my friend of thirty years", Haughey drew up a letter of resignation for Lenihan's signature. Lenihan refused to sign, and Haughey formally advised President Hillery to dismiss Lenihan from the government – which Hillery, as was required constitutionally, duly did, despite grave personal concerns. Many in Fianna Fáil were disgusted with what they saw as Haughey's betrayal of his old friend, and argued that the Progressive Democrats' threat to bring down the government was a mere bluff. This would be the first in a series of events generating discontent in Fianna Fail with Haughey's leadership, culminating in his downfall in early 1992.

Pádraig Flynn's attack on Mary Robinson

Lenihan's dismissal led to an immediate collapse in his popularity (from mid 40% to 31% almost overnight), though his standing in the polls subsequently improved. A personal attack by former cabinet colleague Pádraig Flynn on Mary Robinson, in which he accused her of showing a "new-found interest" in her family, backfired and destroyed Lenihan's campaign. Women voters rallied to Robinson and abandoned the Lenihan campaign in droves.

The result

In spite of his troubled campaign, Lenihan won the largest number of first-preference votes. However, most of the votes that initially went to Austin Currie, the third-placed candidate, transferred to Mary Robinson on the second count, in what was widely seen as a pact between Fine Gael and the Labour Party. As a result, Lenihan became the first Fianna Fáil candidate to lose an Irish presidential election.

Out of government

Lenihan remained active in politics right up to his death in 1995. Bitter at what he saw as his betrayal by the Progressive Democrats, he campaigned[citation needed] for Fianna Fáil to go into coalition with the Labour Party instead, something which happened after the 1992 general election. He also occasionally reviewed books, which showed an intellect[citation needed] that he had suppressed in his public persona as a politician.


Brian Lenihan's health again deteriorated and he died in 1995, at the age of 64. The resulting by-election was won by his son Brian Lenihan Jnr.

In the 1997 general election another son, Conor Lenihan, was elected to Dáil Éireann.

Brian Lenihan Memorial Lecture

A Brian Lenihan Memorial Lecture is delivered annually in the Irish Institute of European Affairs. The first guest speaker was the late Lord Jenkins of Hillhead (previously known as Roy Jenkins; formerly British Home Secretary and President of the European Commission). In 2001, the lecture was given by Chris Patten, former British Conservative Party Minister and MP, former Governor of Hong Kong and current British European Commissioner.


  1. ^ "Brian Lenihan Snr". Oireachtas Members Database. Archived from the original on 7 November 2018. Retrieved 13 March 2012.
  2. ^ "Brian Lenihan". Archived from the original on 12 April 2012. Retrieved 13 March 2012.
  3. ^ Martin, Peter (2006). "Irish Censorship in Context". Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review. 95 (379): 261–268. ISSN 0039-3495. JSTOR 30095841.
  4. ^ Thu; Jul, 20; 2017 - 01:00 (20 July 2017). "The Irish writers banned in their own land". Irish Examiner. Archived from the original on 1 September 2021. Retrieved 19 March 2021.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  5. ^ Both still exist, alongside a third since created, Dublin City University, formerly the National Institute for Higher Education, Dublin (NIHE, Dublin).
  6. ^ "Secondary schools back today". The Irish Times. 24 February 1969. Archived from the original on 18 October 2012. Retrieved 13 December 2009.
  7. ^ Oxo is a well-known brand of stock cube.
  8. ^ Sunday Independent.
  9. ^ "Site Content" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 May 2011. Retrieved 27 October 2008.
  10. ^ Fears grew among the party leadership that the party, in a minority government, would have great difficulty holding Lenihan's seat in a by-election, whereas Wilson had a 'safe seat' the party would have no difficulty in holding.
  11. ^ Under the Constitution of Ireland, the President has the absolute right under the consultation not to grant the Taoiseach a dissolution of the Dáil.
  12. ^ RTÉ showed the image of Lenihan listening to the RTÉ reporter's tape recorder but the fact that he was listening to Ahern's interview before re-recording his own was not explained to viewers and only became known subsequently.

Further reading

Oireachtas Preceded byGerald Boland Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála for Roscommon 1961–1969 Constituency abolished New constituency Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála for Roscommon–Leitrim 1969–1973 Succeeded byPatrick J. Reynolds New constituency Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála for Dublin County West 1977–1981 Constituency abolished New constituency Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála for Dublin West 1981–1995 Succeeded byBrian Lenihan Jnr Political offices New office Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Lands 1961–1964 Succeeded byGeorge Colley Preceded byCharles Haughey Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Justice 1961–1964 Office abolished Minister for Justice 1964–1968 Succeeded byMícheál Ó Móráin Preceded byDonogh O'Malley Minister for Education 1968–1969 Succeeded byPádraig Faulkner Preceded byErskine H. Childers Minister for Transport and Power 1969–1973 Succeeded byMichael O'Kennedy Preceded byPatrick Hillery Minister for Foreign Affairs 1973 Succeeded byGarret FitzGerald Preceded byMark Clinton Minister for Fisheries 1977–1979 Succeeded byPaddy Power Preceded byMichael O'Kennedy Minister for Foreign Affairs 1979–1981 Succeeded byJohn Kelly Preceded byAlan Dukes Minister for Agriculture 1982 Succeeded byAustin Deasy Preceded byPeter Barry Tánaiste 1987–1990 Succeeded byJohn Wilson Minister for Foreign Affairs 1987–1989 Succeeded byGerry Collins Preceded byMichael J. Noonan Minister for Defence 1989–1990 Succeeded byBrendan Daly