Tony Gregory - A Legend in his Time

5 January 2009

by Cllr Joe Costello

I was shocked and saddened to hear of the death of Tony Gregory.

He had been ill for considerable period of time and had courageously handled his illness.

He was a good friend and colleague, both as a TD and as councillor in the constituency of Dublin Central for many years.

Tony Gregory was a legend in his time. He was a household name not only in his constituency of Dublin Central but throughout the entire country.

The famous "Gregory Deal" with Charlie Haughey in 1982, his campaigning work against the scourge of drug abuse in the Inner City Communities and his support for Dublin's traditional street traders are his abiding legacy.

I worked with Tony on Dublin City Council for thirteen years and we were constituency colleagues in Dáil Eireann since 1992.

We held similar views on most issues in Dublin Central. In the countless meetings we attended the length and breadth of the constituency over the best part of two decades of political life I don't believe we ever spoke out against each other's viewpoint.

Son of a Dublin docker and an Offaly mother he was reared and lived all his life in Sackville Place in the shadow of Croke Park. Educated in O'Connell's School on the North Circular Road and UCD, he qualified as a teacher and taught in the Irish secondary school, Colaiste Eoin, in Stillorgan, until he was elected to Dáil Eireann in 1982.,

His politics were republican socialist. He was a member of Sinn Fein, the Workers' Party and the Irish Republican Socialist Party in his youth.

As he became more immersed in his constituency activities he eschewed all political parties. He stood for election to Dáil Eireann in 1982 as an Independent and remained an Independent for the rest of his life.

The poverty and injustice he experienced in his constituency drove him to action. He spoke passionately in the Dáil and at public meetings on behalf of his constituents. He marched for housing, education and jobs on their behalf. He campaigned against the drug barons who were wreaking havoc in Inner City Communities. He went to prison in support of the right of the street traders of Moore Street and Cole's Lane to carry on their tradition of street trading.

Wherever injustice was taking place, Tony was to be found taking a personal stand or lending his name to the campaign whether it was against fox hunting in Ireland or the detention of prisoners without trial in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

While he detested everything that Charlie Haughey stood for, he was prepared to do business with him when the opportunity arose once he could get a good deal for his constituents. The "Gregory Deal" contributed €100 million to the economy of Dublin Central at a time when the country was falling into recession. While often criticised for focusing exclusively on providing benefits for his own constituency he defended his action on the grounds that Dublin Central was at that time the most disadvantaged constituency in the entire country. Ending the neglect of Dublin Central was the price of his vote to make Charlie Haughey Taoiseach in early 1982. When the Haughey Government fell after nine months the Labour/Fine Gael Government, which followed in November 1982, delivered on most of the " Gregory Deal" over the next five years. A programme of social housing, local authority employment and additional teachers for disadvantaged schools, which had been embarked upon, was carried through . Much remained to be done but the "Gregory Deal" put Dublin Central on the political map and there it has remained.

In the early 1980s a totally new phenomenon erupted in the Inner City Communities of Dublin. Heroin had arrived in Ireland and spread like wildfire. Tony became an iconic figure in the campaign to combat the drug barons who plied their trade in the deprived communities and who caused the early deaths of so many young men and women through addiction and disease. Indeed his own life was not without risk in those years when huge profits were being made by people who had no respect for rank or life.

We worked together to focus the attention of the political establishment and the police authorities on the ravages of the drug culture in communities which had little political clout. Much good work was done by people around him, by loyal stalwarts such as Fergus McCabe, Marie Metcalfe, Paddy Malone, Seanie Lambe, Mick Rafferty and Maureen O'Sullivan in building communities and in providing support services and facilities in the North Inner City.

His was a very full and rich life. He dedicated his life to fighting injustice and improving the quality of life of the people he represented. We have much to thank him for.

I offer my sincere condolences to his partner, Annette, his brother Noel and his team of loyal friends and neighbours.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a nanam dhilis.