THERE is no question that Brian Lenihan has been the star performer in a struggling government over the past 12 months. The finance minister had a hugely rocky beginning in the job and seemed initially to be struggling to cope with the magnitude of the crisis he had inherited.
This manifested itself when, shortly after his appointment, he joked at a conference that he had the misfortune to take over in Finance at this time.
It was a tongue-in-cheek remark, but it was unwise to say it in a public setting and it backfired badly, attracting a lot of criticism.
Claims that he was too inexperienced to have been given such a key role – he had only been a cabinet minister for a year when elevated – seemed to be further justified after the government's decision to bring forward last year's budget from December to October was panned.
The idea was to counter criticism that the government was failing to take decisive action to deal with the economic crisis facing the country. However, with just a few weeks to consider the make-up of the budget, it led to rushed decisions, most particularly the politically disastrous move to end automatic free medical cards for the over 70s.
It wasn't so much the decision that was wrong – there was a compelling argument that wealthy pensioners shouldn't be in receipt of free medical care while others much less well-off were not eligible – as the way it was communicated.
Confusion reigned as to eligibility criteria and the public reacted with huge hostility to the move, forcing the government to row back slightly on the move.
The budget caused approval ratings for the government to plummet and they have never recovered.
Lenihan, however, has steadily been building a reputation as a safe pair of hands with a real grasp for the finance job along with being an excellent communicator. Although he did resemble a rabbit caught in the headlights in his early days at the department, friends say his sharp intellect and his political nous – learned at the knee of his father the former Tanaiste to whom he was extremely close – meant he was born for the job, regardless of the difficulties involved.
At the beginning of 2009, it was clear to those with a knowledge of financial matters that Ireland Inc was in serious difficulty.
The budgetary deficit was soaring, tax revenues were plummeting and international markets were concerned that matters were getting out of control.
Privately, there were worries that Ireland would struggle to raise the €20bn-plus it would need in borrowing just to pay its bills.
However, Lenihan moved to address the budgetary crisis with a series of measures ? including a hugely unpopular pension levy for public servants ? and a mini-budget in April, which introduced a raft of income tax increases and spending cutbacks.
The budget was not popular with the public but Lenihan proved to be an articulate advocate of the need for tough decisions to get the country's finances back on track.
Lenihan also helped turn sentiment in the financial markets towards Ireland by conducting a road show of the big finance houses abroad to outline how he planned to rein in the budget deficit. He also received the backing of the European Commission for his plans.
Perhaps his biggest coup in the past 12 months though was getting the Nama legislation through the Dáil. Nama was a hugely controversial measure which was open to claims that not only the banks but the developers were being bailed out by the government.
However, Lenihan clearly won the debate with the opposition, convincingly arguing that Nama was the 'only game in town' and the least worst option to deal with the banking crisis.
He received support from some unlikely quarters. Former Fine Gael Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald and former Fine Gael leader Alan Dukes both gave their backing to Nama.
Lenihan seemed emboldened by his success in getting Nama through the Oireachtas. He risked creating hostages to fortune by declaring on the Last Word radio show on Today FM that there would be no new income taxes in the December budget.
He must have known when he did so that some of his colleagues around the cabinet table would prefer more tax increases to stringent spending cuts in areas such as social welfare, public sector pay and health.
However, Lenihan had an unwavering view that income tax increases in the previous two budgets went about as far as possible without diminishing returns setting in.
Higher marginal rates of taxation risked shutting the economy down, deterring foreign investors from coming to Ireland and killing enterprise.
Although there was understood to have been some heated discussions at cabinet level on the budget – with some ministers advocating a tax increase aimed at top earners – it was Lenihan's view that held sway.
It is also widely believed that it was Lenihan who held the line in the failed negotiations with the public sector unions on ways to bring down the public sector wage bill, however, although he has clearly become sceptical about some of the merits of social partnership, informed sources say the finance minister would have been willing to sign up for a deal if the sums had added up.
When the budget came it was savage – there was another public sector pay cut and for the first time since the early days of the state there was a reduction in social welfare rates – of 4%.
However, although it was arguably the most painful budget ever, the political fall-out was almost non-existent. The lessons of 14 months earlier had been learned. Expectations had been successfully managed. A lot of this was down to Lenihan's skills as a debater and communicator.
He came through successive press conferences and broadcast interviews unscathed and his performance on the traditional post-budget Today with Pat Kenny appearance of the finance minister had even the government's strongest critics waxing lyrical.
The government surprised most commentators by clearing a series of obstacles – Nama, the Lisbon referendum, the re-negotiation of the programme for government and finally the budget – and getting to Christmas.
In the wake of the budget, Lenihan was being widely talked about as the heir apparent to Taoiseach Brian Cowen.
* The average age of diagnosis for pancreatic cancer is 74 in Ireland, however younger people can be diagnosed, particularly those with a family history of cancer. Brian Lenihan senior died of cancer of the liver in 1995. About 10% of sufferers of pancreatic cancer have a family history of the disease.
* Dr Eamonn Shanahan of the Irish College of General Practitioners told the Sunday Tribune: "Pancreatic cancer is a much feared disease due to its notoriously late presentation, early spread and poor survival rates."
* Approximately 600 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in Ireland each year.
* It is the fifth most common cause of cancer deaths in Ireland, despite only being the twelfth common cancer.
* There are initially no symptoms which makes pancreatic cancer very difficult to diagnose in the early stages. When symptoms are present it is because the tumor has grown large enough to interfere with the stomach, liver or other nearby organs.
* People diagnosed with pancreatic cancer often suffer from pain, weight loss, fatigue and depression.
* Smoking and alcohol consumption are the most generally accepted risk factors for pancreatic pancreas.
* It is expected that the number of cases of pancreatic cancer will double from around 600 a year today to 1,200 by 2020 because of increasing level of obesity.
* The pancreas is a gland that serves two basic functions, it produces secretions that help to digest food and hormones that regulate how food is stored and used. It is located in the abdomen and is surrounded by the stomach and intestines. It is about six inches long.
* Actor Patrick Swayze was diagnosed with the disease in March 2008. He died in September 2009 aged 57. Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, was diagnosed with the disease in 2004
* According to US statistics of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer only 20% are alive one year later and only 5% survive for at least five years.