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Brian Lenihan

Lenihan: Anglo costs are manageable, but I’ll do what’s best for taxpayers

Minister for Finance talks health, leadership prospects, and the state of Irish banking.

BRIAN LENIHAN SAYS THAT today’s EU meeting over the future of Anglo Irish Bank is about “considering what’s best for the future” and for the Irish taxpayer.

In an interview with RTÉ’s News at One today before travelling to Brussels, Lenihan said that a final decision on Anglo would have to be made in the coming weeks.

The Minister for Finance insisted that the cost of Anglo was bearable: “The costs are manageable – yes, they are annoying, they are infuriating, but they are manageable.”

He said “international conditions have become much more fragile since May of this year” and said that Ireland can survive the fiscal crisis by holding “our nerve” and charting a clear course for the bank on how it will be “de-risked in terms of the Irish state and the Irish taxpayer.”

He said the alternative of letting the bank go and the country go was unthinkable for the government, adding that no one abroad was questioning the basic plan, but was looking for greater detail on that plan.

Lenihan said that Ireland was meeting general targets on public finances this year.

He agreed with the IMF’s view that Ireland is unlikely to default on its debt, but said that speculation about defaulting was not helping international confidence.

It’s very important to realise we’re part of the global economy, we have to sustain confidence in this economy.

When I look at the views of commentators in these matters at home, I see a constant reference to the need for us to default on various obligations. That doesn’t instil confidence abroad.

Minister Lenihan said he didn’t envision any difficulties in re-financing the Irish banks, and said Ireland is one of 17 EU members who still have a banking guarantee in place.

Health issues

The minister said he had completed the intensive treatment for his pancreatic cancer in June, and subsequent tests have shown the illness has “stabilised”.

He said the condition has improved somewhat, and that although illness hasn’t gone away, it is not a present danger to him.

Lenihan said that he was like anyone else who suffers from cancer in that there is always a health risk involved, but he did not expect any problems in the coming year.

A question of leadership

When questioned about his relationship with Brian Cowen and his confidence in his leadership, Lenihan said he was chosen by the party as the leader and no one had suggested to him (Lenihan) that the situation should change.

He said he had been given “tremendous support” from Cowen, and said the Taoiseach was bearing up well and working hard despite the level of personal criticism he regularly faces.

Asked if he fancied himself in the role of Taoiseach or party leader, he said:

Nobody has sounded me out for the leadership of the party in that sense.

People are concerned about the direction of the party; people are concerned that the party has lost a lot of support. But it is important that we stick to our plan, we stick to our guns, we hold our nerve, because no other party has put forward a viable plan for the future of this country.

There isn’t a vacancy at present, so we’re not at the stage where you can start discussing who would or would not be leader of a party.

He admitted that every politician wants to be party leader at some stage, but that there is no vacancy and he has been focusing on other issues in the past year.

And the public can pass judgment on this government when it expires in 2012, he added.

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