Challenge: government sources differ as to Brian Lenihan's future as minister for finance

THE minister for finance Brian Lenihan will make a public statement about his recent cancer diagnosis early this week.

It is understood that Lenihan will announce his intention to continue on in his current role at the Department of Finance. He will use the public statement as an opportunity to "map out the work that has to be done" to help the country's economic recovery.

Sources in Lenihan's department have indicated the public statement may come as early as tomorrow and it will mark the minister's first public statement on his illness since TV3 News revealed details of his pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

TV3's decision to broadcast news on St Stephen's Day of Lenihan's illness met with outrage from government ministers.

The minister for social and family affairs Mary Hanafin said: "I cannot overstate that we are appalled at the manner in which the story was broken. Public people are public people but people are entitled to be sick in private."

Over 70 complaints were made last week via email to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) about the TV3 report and people have 30 days from the broadcast date to make formal, written complaints.

Lenihan has spent the Christmas break at home in Dublin with his wife and two children ahead of his return to work at the Department of Finance on Dublin's Merrion Street.

In an interview last week, Hanafin said she had spoken at length to Lenihan about his illness.

"He's very upbeat and willing to take on the challenge of his treatment," she said.

"Having spoken to Brian, I must say he is very upbeat about it and very conscious of the fact that all over this country there are thousands of people successfully battling illness with good medical care and with the support of their families, and Brian will get that as well.

"As cabinet colleagues we are all behind him and I know certainly from the good wishes he has been getting from throughout the country that the general public is behind him as well."

A government source said, "As far as I am aware it is going to be business as usual for minister Lenihan when he gets back after the Christmas break."

However, another government source said: "Given the nature of his illness, it is difficult to see how he could continue long term in the high-pressure role as minister for finance. Nobody in government circles even wants to talk about a reshuffle as people are shell-shocked by the news and feel it would be inappropriate."

There was some speculation before Christmas that Taoiseach Brian Cowen might reshuffle his cabinet after he refused to rule out such a move during a pre-Christmas briefing with political correspondents. That was before news of Lenihan's illness emerged and the decision on any such move rests with Cowen.