The finance minister is unwell

What is the threshold for reporting on the health status of the Minister of Finance?  Here’s a study in contrasts between Ireland and Japan.

In Ireland, the Minister, Brian Lenihan, was reported to have gone into hospital 2 weeks ago for suspected hernia pain.  Not much was heard but the rumour mill in Dublin was apparently in overdrive.  Step forward independent broadcaster TV3 with a report, minus any explicit attribution, that Lenihan had pancreatic cancer and a Cabinet reshuffle is inevitable.  If one was to make an attempt at summarizing the reaction in Ireland, it would be that there had been a significant invasion of privacy and that even reporting the situation before any official statement let alone speculating as to implications was unseemly.   Yet with the government having justified their performance in terms of how it looks to the outside world, there is a case that the item was of public interest.

Now Japan.  A statement from the finance ministry to media sources that the minister is in hospital, suffering at the very least from exhaustion, and could be out of action for a while.  With the effect of heading off speculation that worse could be afoot.  In fairness, the Japanese may have learned from the experience of having a previous occupant of the position go missing during the G8 finance ministers family photo earlier this year, with too much Italian wine apparently being part of the problem.

There’s probably no right answer.  Ireland is a small place and that seems to come with a presumption that one could happen across information that “everybody” knows and yet is not expected to be in print.  But this is the glare of a high debt country.  We should get used to it.

2 thoughts on “The finance minister is unwell

  1. TV3 were correct; the mean survival time from a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer (with some hedging) is six months, according to the OHCM. The country needed to know this, possibly more than his family did.

  2. I think TV3 was wrong. The Taoiseach — i.e. prime minister — knew, and it would make no difference to the public for the announcement to have waited a week until after Mr Lenihan had his Christmas holiday.

    (Eoin O’Dell of TCD’s Law School speculates on the legal possibilities in his blog at

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