Man who tried to save Ireland from financial meltdown dies, aged just 52

IRELAND'S former finance minister Brian Lenihan, who was once tipped as a future taoiseach, has died after a long battle with cancer at the age of 52.

President Mary McAleese led tributes saying the death of such a young and talented politician was untimely, while taoiseach Enda Kenny said he exemplified public service.

Mr Lenihan died at his home in west Dublin in the early hours of yesterday morning.

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"As minister for finance, Brian had to confront challenges, the scale and gravity of which were unprecedented in the history of the state," Ms McAleese said.

Mr Kenny added: "Throughout his political career, Brian Lenihan displayed huge commitment to public service and carried out his responsibilities with integrity and compassion.

"During his illness, which he fought with serenity, he courageously continued to fully perform his ministerial responsibilities in the most challenging and difficult circumstances."

Mr Lenihan had been suffering from inoperable pancreatic cancer and underwent treatment while finance minister in 2009 and 2010. He always insisted it would not deflect from his work.

Political colleagues and opponents praised his intellect, strength and commitment to steering the economy through the deepest economic crisis in Irish history in the face of such personal trauma.

Mr Lenihan, from a staunch Fianna Fail dynasty, entered the Dail parliament in 1996 after winning the Dublin West seat left empty following the death of his father Brian, also a former minister. He retained that seat in the general election in February despite the ruinous collapse of his Fianna Fail party.

His aunt Mary O'Rourke, a former TD and senator, praised her nephew's work in government.

"He always worked for his country and he worked for the best of Ireland - in the end what anybody in public life would wish to do, and that's what he did," she said. "I just feel my life has almost ended."

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Former taoiseachs under which Mr Lenihan served, Brian Cowen and Bertie Ahern, praised his decency, ability and commitment.

Mr Ahern said: "He did immense work on behalf of the people of this country as a minister and his loss is a huge one for Irish politics.

"He had to contend with huge difficulties, but he was equal to the challenge and did a very fine job."

Mr Cowen said: "At the Cabinet table, I saw at first-hand how hard he worked and how committed he was to doing his utmost for Ireland.

"He made an immense contribution to dealing with the problems the country has faced and I believe that this will be appreciated all the more in time. His commitment and application to his duties never faltered at any time."Chancellor George Osborne added: "His positive approach to his illness at the same time as dealing with the difficult circumstances faced by the Irish economy was remarkable and my thoughts are with his family at this time.

"He was a patriotic Irishman doing the best for his country in difficult circumstances."

Northern Ireland first minister Peter Robinson described Mr Lenihan as a personal friend who helped out the north several times and "a good friend to Northern Ireland".