Obituary: Brian Lenihan, former finance minister of Ireland

• Brian Lenihan, former finance minister of Ireland. Born: 21 May, 1959, in Dublin. Died: 10 June, 2011, in Dublin, aged 52.

AS IRELAND'S finance minister for most of the past three years, Brian Lenihan had the misfortune to preside over his nation's financial collapse from the "Celtic Tiger" boom years to last year's bust and humiliating €85 billion (75bn) bail-out by the International Monetary Fund and the European Union, including Britain.

Having been handed what he would later call "the poisoned chalice" of the ministry in 2008, Lenihan watched the banking system collapse, eventually leading to the fall of the Fianna Fil government and the current four-year austerity programme.

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Lenihan, who died aged 52 a year and a half after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, was blamed by many for the collapse - particularly for what proved to be his foolhardy 2008 pledge to guarantee 100 per cent of all bank deposits in Ireland, including those of foreign speculators. With the six big banks virtually nationalised, Irish taxpayers soon woke up to the fact that they had been saddled with the speculators' horrendous debts.

But Lenihand was exonerated by others who laid the blame on the ostrich-like policies of previous governments failing to regulate the banks during the boom years.

His Dublin constituents suggested they did not hold him personally responsible for Ireland's financial meltdown when they re-elected him to the Dil this year, while most of his fellow Fianna Fil members and their Green Party coalition partners were unceremoniously thrown out.

Lenihan had previously served as minister for children and minister of justice, equality and law reform when he was given the finance portfolio - the second-highest post in the Irish government - in June 2008 to replace Brian Cowen. (Cowen succeeded Berti Ahern as taoiseach).

A barrister by profession, Lenihan had a keen academic mind, but had little or no experience in banking or business. He naively believed his civil servants when they insisted Irish banks' debt exposure was less than 1 per cent of their lending. It turned out to be closer to 50 per cent. Add to that the collapse of Lehman Brothers in the United States and the global credit crunch and Lenihan's chalice was well and truly poisoned.

He pumped billons of taxpayers' euros into the banking system to prevent a run on the banks, famously describing his move as "the cheapest bailout in history".

Although known as a great communicator, that phrase would return to haunt him. For the next two years, he was forced to produce a series of austerity budgets, including unpopular cuts in welfare benefits. The man and woman in the street felt they were paying for a crisis caused by the banks, while the bankers got off Scot-free, despite their spiralling debts.

In the Financial Times' annual survey of eurozone finance ministers, a panel of economists named Lenihan "the eurozone's worst finance minister" for two years in a row - 2009 and 2010.

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In an unusually-frank interview with the BBC last April, he described his feelings about having to go cap in hand to the EU and the IMF last December. He appeared haunted by the decisions he made, which ultimately cost him and his party dear.

"I've a very vivid memory of going to Brussels on the final Monday to sign the agreement and being on my own at the airport and looking at the snow gradually thawing and thinking to myself: This is terrible. No Irish minister has ever had to do this before. I had fought for two-and-a-half years to avoid this conclusion. I believed I had fought the good fight and taken every measure possible to delay such an eventuality and now hell was at the gate."

Despite his illness, Lenihan put himself forward as a candidate for leadership of Fianna Fail when Cowen stood down last January. In the end, the job went to Michel Martin but Lenihan was later appointed the party's deputy leader, a post he held until his death.

Brian Lenihan was born in Dublin in 1959 to a family often described as a "political dynasty." His father, also Brian, served in the Irish cabinet for more than 25 years, including as deputy prime minister, defence minister and foreign minister. His grandfather Patrick Lenihan was a deputy in the Dail during the 1960s. Lenihan's brother Conor also became a cabinet minister, as did his aunt, Mary (O'Rourke) a veteran of Fianna Fil.

Lenihan received a Jesuit education at Belvedere College in the heart of Dublin. After studying law at Trinity College and later at Cambridge University (Sidney Sussex College), he was called to the Irish Bar in 1984 and became a successful barrister at the King's Inn in Dublin, specialising in commercial law.

But his father's death from cancer pushed him into politics in 1996, when he successfully ran for his father's West Dublin seat in a by-election for the Dil.

Despite criticism of his policies, Lenihan was generally well-liked by the Irish public, not least after his cancer diagnosis. He was widely praised for continuing in his job despite his ongoing treatment and, after his death, praise came in from all shades of the political spectrum.

His longtime political rival, Irish premier Enda Kenny of Fine Gael, spoke of his "wonderful courage". Irish president Mary McAleese added: "Brian had to confront challenges the scale and gravity of which were unprecedented in the history of the state.

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"Despite his illness, he faced up to those challenges with extraordinary but characteristic dignity, courage and good humour."

Lenihan said the pinnacle of his career was being asked, while finance minister, to address crowds at the annual commemoration of the death of revolutionary leader Michael Collins in west Cork last year. He was the first Fianna Fil minister to deliver a speech at what has traditionally been a Fine Gael event.

Brian Lenihan is survived by his wife Patricia (ne Ryan), a circuit court judge whom he married in 1997, his son Tom and daughter Claire, his mother Ann, his brothers Conor, Niall and Paul and his sister Anita.