Peter Robinson's lip trembled as he spoke about his pain. He looked like a man with a thousand Lambegs banging in his head. His voice faltered as he spoke of his wife's infidelity and suicide attempt last March. He would "get through this".

Gerry Adams' voiced trembled on Pat Kenny's show as he countered negative reaction to his revelations of childhood abuse. Like Robinson's, his story was very affecting. Here was a heart being bared. A heart we didn't necessarily know existed in the first place.

Brian Lenihan's voice was strong and clear as he told Sean O'Rourke about his cancer. The nation's heart crumpled to the floor.

The sound of the alpha male breaking has a distinctive resonance. The harder the exterior, the louder the crack. Alpha males are hard-wired not to show emotion and so we watch every gesture, listen to every syllable and wait for their humanity to break through. When it does it can be devastating. Robinson's 'snap' came with his wish for 2010 to be a "better year" and Adams' when he hinted he may have suffered abuse. Lenihan's came with his declaration that he would defeat cancer or be defeated by it.

The image of the stoic Irishman suppressing emotion always brings a lump to the collective throat. We become afflicted with a form of 'Irish amnesia' and forget his transgressions. We temporarily forget that Robinson's a bigot and Adams has blood on his hands.

The Irish 'nice' gene forces our emotions to over-ride our common sense. As we are incapable of doing anything by half measures, this frequently leads to national hysteria. Remember the Thierry Henry furore?

What I'm about to write next will anger many readers. I can't apologise for that. This amnesia and hysteria was evident in the response to Brian Lenihan's interview last week.

His words were inspirational and he reinforced my opinion that he is a decent, hardworking man. However, the public and press reaction went way over the top, even by Irish standards.

On Monday, Liveline buzzed with sympathetic callers. This is the same Liveline that has aired public-sector workers weeping over his cuts to their pay. The same forum for everyone with a gripe about his work as finance minister.

The following day the newspapers were full of unbridled praise for his undoubted courage. 'Braveheart Brian's battle cry lifts the country' yelled the Irish Independent, which also compared him to Winston Churchill.

The Daily Mail, not to be outdone, called him 'Superman'. He "has united the country". He is our "talisman". Superman? Talis-man? Oh, man.

Can we please stop for a reality check? Brian Lenihan is very ill and we all feel sorry for him and wish him well. However, his illness hasn't suddenly given him superhuman powers. He's still the same Brian Lenihan we criticised for setting up Nama. He's the same man who cut the price of booze while cutting carers' allowances. He's the same minister who axed medical cards for the elderly. The same man who crumbled to the bookies and rescinded his increase in gambling tax while levying the rest of us.

Now he is Superman? Get a grip.

It's time we stopped searching the skies for potential saviours. If we're not waiting for Our Lady to appear at Knock, we're handing an ill politician a cape with an S on it. We need to stop being misty-eyed and dreaming of superheroes. Lenihan is still the same finance minister he was when he delivered his budget.

We can admire him on a human level (and I do), but we must separate his private and political personas. We can't pull our punches as an electorate because we feel sorry for him. We must continue to lambaste him when he slips up – as he did over the carers' allowance.

That sounds harsh. It's not intended to be, but after last week's coverage some balance is needed. I hope Lenihan will understand what I mean by that.

He told the opposition not to give him an easy ride in the Dáil: to leave the kid gloves at home. The citizens of this state must leave the gloves off, too. Lenihan has shown himself to be a pragmatist over the past 14 months. He's been on a learning curve and it's not unreasonable to suggest that he sometimes heeds us when we shout. He admitted his mistake over medical cards, for example. He needs our voices to guide him as much he needs the opposition's.

His illness should not cloud our judgement of his decisions. When he is being grilled on RTÉ, the temptation to think "ah, ease up on him, he's not well" should be resisted.

Something similar can be said of Robinson and Adams. While feeling sympathy for them, we must also realise that their alpha male confessions were damage limitation exercises. Robinson spoke in advance of BBC revelations about his wife's murky financial affairs. Adams has been accused of lying about his alleged paedophile brother's relationship with Sinn Féin. Lenihan's confession had no hidden agenda. The only damage he can hope to limit is to his health. He is a fine man and deserves our unstinting sympathy in a balanced, measured way.

His recovery should be wished and prayed for… but it shouldn't overshadow the recovery of our nation.