Community-rooted politician who did deal with Haughey

 

Tony Gregory:TONY GREGORY, who has died aged 61, rose to national prominence in the early 1980s when, as a newly elected Independent TD he struck a deal with Charles Haughey to return Fianna Fáil to government.

The multi-million-pound "Gregory deal" is now part of Irish political folklore. The Dublin Central TD received detailed written commitments from Haughey, in February 1982, for a variety of projects.

Had that government lasted, the face of a deprived area of the north inner city could have been transformed, but Haughey lost power in December and much of the deal became history.

It was to be Gregory's first and last heady taste of real political power, although he was to be returned at every subsequent general election.

Gregory had cut his political teeth as a member of Dublin City Council when he secured a Dáil seat in the February 1982 general election. In the 1970s, he was associated with republican groups, but this involvement had ceased by the time he made it to the Dáil

Although newly elected, he showed himself to be methodical and streetwise in his dealings with Haughey who was striving to have Fianna Fáil replace the short-lived FG-Labour government.

Haughey, having survived an abortive leadership challenge, desperately needed power.

He went alone to Gregory's Summerhill Parade constituency office and brokered the deal. Gregory was accompanied by his brother, Noel, and constituency activists Mick Rafferty and Fergus McCabe. What emerged, it was estimated, could have cost the exchequer £80 million in a full year.

The written agreement included commitments to nationalise a 27-acre site in Dublin Port and Clondalkin paper mills. A total of £4 million was to be allocated to employ 500 extra people in the inner city, while 3,746 jobs were to be created over three years.

State funding would be provided to build 440 new houses in the constituency and another 1,600 in the rest of Dublin.

When the deal was done, Haughey shook hands with Gregory, remarking: "As the Mafia say, it is a pleasure to do business with you." Gregory was a national figure, with a dream start to his political career.

Haughey's opponents accused him of financial profligacy, given that he was prepared to spend so much taxpayers' money on one constituency to secure power. Then, and later, Gregory strongly defended the deal, referring to the appalling levels of social deprivation in his constituency at the time.

Meanwhile, Gregory was also making history in the Dáil chamber, refusing to wear a tie as was required at the time of male TDs. The intense young Dubliner escaped the censure of ceann comhairle Dr John O'Connell.

Although the Gregory deal unravelled with the collapse of Haughey's government, the Dublin Central Independent had established himself politically in a short time. It seemed as if his hour had come again when he held the balance of power in the hung Dáil which followed the 1987 general election, but the political mood had changed, with financial rectitude the order of the day.

Haughey made it clear that there would be no visit this time to Gregory's Summerhill Parade office. "The day of the great stroke is over," said a Fianna Fáil spokesman at the time.

Gregory kept Haughey and the Dáil guessing about his voting intentions until shortly before the House divided on the formation of a government. He abstained and Haughey was elected on the casting vote of ceann comhairle Seán Treacy.

To taunts from members of the outgoing government, Gregory remarked that electing Haughey was "the lesser of two evils". He warned that he would vote against any harsh measures which would affect the poor in the budget.

At the time, he suggested the formation of a left-wing alliance in the Dáil, but it was never to materialise.

Gregory was born in Dublin in December 1947, son of Tony Gregory snr, a casual labourer on the Dublin docks. His mother was Ellen Judge, who came from a small farm at Rhode, near Croghan Hill in Co Offaly, where Gregory spent his school holidays.

As a TD, he would say that the "poverty of my parents" motivated him to enter politics.

"My mother left the farm and when she was 15 or 16 and came to Dublin to work," he recalled.

A scholarship enabled young Tony to attend secondary school at O'Connell's School on North Richmond Street. Summer jobs in an ice cream factory in London paid his way through UCD, where he felt an outsider.

"I took no part in college social life. I went to UCD to get a degree, get a job and get out of it," he recalled in an interview in the 1990s. "I don't regret it. I had no understanding of university life and there was virtually no one there from a social background with which I could identify."

After graduating, he taught history through Irish at Coláiste Eoin in Stillorgan, south Dublin.

Although politics was never discussed at home, he learnt about practical issues at an early age. When his mother applied for a Dublin Corporation house, she was turned down on the basis that she had two rather than three children. His mother remained his central influence until her death in 1969 in her early 60s.

Gregory's involvement in community activities paved the way for a political career. He was particularly horrified by housing conditions, with some people still living in old Georgian tenements.

As a TD, Gregory remained steadfastly loyal to his community. He went to jail in 1986 because of his stance on behalf of traditional Dublin women street traders. He consistently highlighted the drug problem in his constituency.

In 1984, he said he had no misgivings about the Concerned Parents Against Drugs movement. The community response was the main reason for the decline in addiction, he added.

He campaigned for a ban on hare coursing, moving a Dáil private member's Bill which was defeated. The Irish Council against Blood Sports presented him with a special award for his work in that area.

In Leinster House, Gregory was essentially a loner, although he was close to Dublin North Central TD Finian McGrath.

A dour exterior concealed occasional flashes of dry humour, but he was always deadly serious when talking about the rights of the disadvantaged.

He shared the same constituency with Bertie Ahern and, inevitably, given local tensions, they had an uneasy relationship.

Gregory once listed his hobby as "foreign travel", something he availed of when offered a place on parliamentary trips for Oireachtas members. It was his one indulgence in a political career that was marked by hard work and a dogged application to his beliefs.

Unmarried, he lived with his brother, Noel, at Sackville Gardens, Ballybough.

Tony Gregory: born December 5th, 1947; died January 2nd, 2009