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Andrew Lynch: So Lenihan has revealed his true feelings about Cowen. Pity it's too late

When Brian Lenihan was re-elected to the Dail last month, he struggled to keep the tears at bay. Now the former Minister for Finance has given Brian Cowen something to cry about.

By admitting that he didn't think much of the ex-Taoiseach's leadership, he has exposed the worst-kept secret in Irish politics -- and staked his claim as a man who still has a big future in Fianna Fail.

Lenihan's comments in an interview with his local newspaper are quietly devastating.

He reveals that he never really wanted to be Minister for Finance in the first place and tried to persuade Cowen not to move him from the Department of Justice. He then complains that the new Taoiseach simply never offered any leadership, forcing him to take on much of the workload himself.

Hindsight

Over the last couple of years, there have been constant rumours that Lenihan was about to resign and challenge Cowen for the keys to the Taoiseach's office. Now, for the first time, he admits that he gave the idea serious consideration. In the end, he held back because he worried that it would destroy the Government's stability and do huge damage to the economy at the same time.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear now that Lenihan made the wrong decision.

During their two years at the top, the two Brians had to make monumental decisions such as the State banking guarantee, a succession of hairshirt budgets and a loan application to the IMF.

At the same time, they were rumoured to be barely on speaking terms -- and while a better personal relationship might not have saved the economy from going down the tubes, it could hardly have made things any worse.

The difference between the two men's public image was monumental.

While the Taoiseach was condemned for his grumpy demeanour, the Minister for Finance's bravery in fighting pancreatic cancer briefly made him the most admired politician in the country. In the end, however, the economic shipwreck dragged them both under -- which ensured that when Cowen finally quit, Lenihan was easily beaten in the FF leadership race by squeaky clean Micheal Martin.

Today, Cowen's political career is over for good. Lenihan, however, has a new responsibility as the only FF TD remaining in Dublin. He will have a crucial role to play in rebuilding the party over the next five years -- and if Martin fails to cut the mustard, he would be the obvious person to take over.

All that is for another day. For now, the people who really need to learn lessons from the Cowen-Lenihan debacle are Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan. With a long history of leadership battles between them, the new Taoiseach and Minister for Finance are not exactly best friends either -- but as they join forces to secure a better deal for -Ireland in Brussels, they must make sure that their bad blood never does anything to harm the country's interests.

Enda and Michael's uneasy relationship goes all the way back to 2001, when both men challenged for the FG leadership. Noonan won easily but showed little grace in victory by refusing to give his defeated rival a place on the front bench.

Kenny told him in no uncertain terms that he was making a mistake -- and was proved right just a year later when FG were annihilated in a General Election and the two men's positions were reversed.

Paralysis

While the two men have obviously made their peace since then, their personal truce will be severely tested in the months leading up to next December's Budget.

If Noonan ever feels half as bad about his leader as Lenihan clearly did about his, he must do the honourable thing and make those disagreements public.

The last thing we need is an Irish version of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, whose shouting matches and petty rivalry paralysed the British government for over a decade.

Brian Lenihan has finally revealed his true feelings. What a pity it's come too late to do him -- or the country -- any good.