Tony Gregory

Mon, Jan 5, 2009, 00:00

Anyone who can secure election to the Dáil on eight occasions and serve 27 years in Leinster House must have a deep understanding of the needs of his or her constituents. Equally, those constituents must greatly appreciate the work done for them by their TD. To serve that length of time in an inner-city Dublin constituency, whose size and shape changed frequently and where voter turnout is low, is a difficult feat. To do so without the backing of a party machine, is remarkable. Tony Gregory, as an independent TD, managed that for more than a quarter century.

He came into national politics in 1982, where Charles Haughey's difficulty in forming a minority government became a political opportunity for the newly elected TD from Dublin Central. He struck a tough bargain in exchange for giving the government his voting support. In return Mr Gregory secured for one of the State's most deprived and disadvantaged constituencies a large and expensive package of economic measures. Because of the government's short tenure in office, more was promised than was delivered in the controversial "Gregory deal". Yet, undoubtedly, his initiative began a long overdue regeneration and redevelopment of the inner city, which later saw the Financial Services Centre locate in the area.

He bore his long final illness with quiet dignity, defending his right to privacy even as his health declined. Last year the Press Council upheld his complaint that a newspaper had breached his privacy rights after the Evening Heraldhad revealed details of his medical condition.

Mr Gregory was a self-effacing figure with a wry sense of humour who made few concessions to social convention. He chose to remain tieless in the Dáil throughout his long parliamentary career. Certainly, he will be remembered for his concern for the socially disadvantaged, which stemmed from his earlier involvement in community politics. The poverty of his parents became his reason to enter politics.

His courage in addressing publicly one of the biggest issues within his Dublin Central constituency, the drugs problem, brought him to the attention of a wider public. He confronted that issue with characteristic boldness and bravery, showing scant concern for his own safety when publicly naming drug dealers and drug barons. The Dáil has lost its longest serving independent member. Parliament is diminished by his absence.