Lenihan, face of Irish crisis, survives election

DUBLIN Sat Feb 26, 2011 4:25pm EST

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DUBLIN (Reuters) - Brian Lenihan's policies have cast his Fianna Fail party into the electoral wilderness but the former Irish finance minister's personality has saved him from the same fate.

Lenihan, the face of Ireland's economic crisis and the architect of its bailout by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, survived his party's rout on Saturday as voters repaid him for his efforts to save the country while battling cancer.

Renowned for maintaining his good nature while holding one of the toughest jobs in Europe, Lenihan may be the only member of Fianna Fail left standing in Dublin, often referred to as the "cockpit of power" because of its 47 parliamentary seats.

A scion of one of Ireland's most famous political dynasties, Lenihan snatched the final seat in the four-seat Dublin West constituency and behind a high-profile socialist candidate who had lambasted his policies.

The former lawyer and university lecturer, who took over the finance portfolio as the economy began to unravel, was diagnosed with cancer at the entrance to his pancreas shortly before Christmas 2009. He completed treatment last year.

"I think Lenihan has a degree of sympathy for the job that he was trying to do and so there will have been some core Fianna Fail voters who came out for him," said David Farrell, professor of politics at University College Dublin.

Lenihan delivered four austerity budgets in his less than three years in the job. He bailed out the country's two biggest lenders, nationalised the third and took charge of the two biggest building societies.

Known as a calm, patient and methodical lawyer, Lenihan worked frantically to save the country's teetering financial system after years of risky lending under the watch of his predecessor and outgoing prime minister, Brian Cowen.

In recent days, one of Fianna Fail's aristocracy appeared to have read the signs.

Lenihan, who replaced his former deputy prime minister father in the Dublin West seat in 1995, sent a letter to his constituents in a final plea for their vote while failing to mention his party or show its logo.

Saturday as counting continued, Fianna Fail looked to be heading for the worst electoral result in its 85-year history.

Lenihan's brother Conor and his aunt, Mary O'Rourke, a former minister often referred to as the "Mammy of the Dail (parliament)," have already conceded defeat.

The family legacy now rests with Brian.

(Editing by Andrew Dobbie)

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