Independent TD Tony Gregory dies at the age of 61


Tributes have poured in for Independent TD Tony Gregory who died today at the age of 61.

The Dublin Central TD died in St Francis Hospice, Raheny, this morning, after a long battle with cancer.

Mr 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. He rose to national prominence when as a newly-elected Independent TD he struck a deal with Charles Haughey to return Fianna Fail to government.

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 shortlived FG-Labour 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, which it was estimated could 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.

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

Mr 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, Mr Gregory strongly defended the deal, referring to the appalling levels of social deprivation in his constituency at the time.

In 1986 he was jailed because of his stance on behalf of traditional Dublin women street traders, repeatedly refusing to sign a bond to keep the peace and ensure his early release.

He consistently highlighted the drug problem in his constituency. In 1984, he said he had no misgivings about the then 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 Dail 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.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said he was saddened to learn of Mr Gregory's death.

"Tony served his community of the inner city at a national level with great dedication and distinction for over a quarter of a century. He was a proud Dubliner, a great advocate for his community and a diligent public representative," he said.

" Prior to his passing, Tony was by far the longest serving independent deputy in the Dáil. The people of Dublin Central consistently voted for Tony because of his well-deserved reputation for hard work and his commitment to the disadvantaged in our society."

Mr Cowen added: "He had an insightful knowledge of many issues especially social deprivation and the problems caused by drugs. I have no doubt he will be greatly missed by all his Oireachtas colleagues who respected him greatly."

Green Party leader John Gormley said Mr Gregory was a man of "deep principle" who worked tirelessly for the people in his constituency.

¿He will be remembered for his dedication to the needs of the people. He will also be remembered for the many causes which he championed which included housing, local development, anti-drug campaigns, education, the Irish language and animal welfare,¿ Mr Gormley said.

¿He was a strong feature of Irish political life since 1982 and his passing came all too early for someone who still had much to give."

Fine Gael Leader Enda Kenny said Mr Gregory was "an original mould breaker" with his creation of the Gregory Deal, who disrupted the "cosy comfort" of Dáil tradition when he refused to wear a tie in the Dáil chamber.

¿Tony Gregory was a fearless defender of his inner city constituents, proud of his heritage, and absolutely courageous in standing up to drug barons and drug pushers. He epitomised his love of country by his continuous and frequent use of the Irish language, which he spoke so well and with such clarity," Mr Kenny said.

¿He bore his illness with great dignity, and typical of his demeanour and personality, said in reply to my asking how he was, just some sort time ago: `I don¿t talk about it, this is something I have to cope with myself, alone¿. I admired his conviction and his total commitment to his people. We shall miss him."

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said Mr Gregory's death marked a sad beginning to 2009 and offered condolences to his family.

"Tony had been a public representative for Dublin¿s north inner city for many years and he served his constituents with distinction, both as a member of Dublin City Council, and of course as a TD in Dail Eireann," he said.

"Tony was a man of conviction, and commitment and sought at every opportunity, to address the social problems; the unemployment; the threat posed by drugs; and the economic deprivation, that beset many parts of his constituency. He was a true advocate of the people of Dublin Central who repaid him by returning him as a TD in every general election since 1982. Tony was a hero to the people of the north inner city.

"Political life in Ireland is a much poorer place on his passing."

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern said Mr Gregory played an honourable part in securing progress right across Dublin¿s many communities.

¿For almost 30 years we have been constituency colleagues, political opponents and always good friends,¿ said Mr Ahern, Fianna Fail TD for Dublin Central.

¿Today, I want to pay tribute to a politician who gave total commitment to his constituents and made an undoubted difference to the city he loved.

¿Tony entered politics as a community activist and his commitment to the people of inner city Dublin went right to his core.¿

Mr Ahern said Mr Gregory was one of the hardest working TDs in the Dail. ¿Any economic and social history of Dublin over the last 30 years will be incomplete without reference to the determined work of Tony Gregory,¿ he said.

¿He will be remembered as a man of integrity and a hardworking public representative.¿

President Mary McAleese also conveyed her sympathies to Mr Gregory¿s family.

Fellow Independent Deputy Finian McGrath said Ireland had lost a great TD and a champion of the weakest sections of society.

¿Tony was also a close friend and advisor for 25 years,¿ said Mr McGrath.

¿I would not be in the Dail without the support and guidance from Tony. He taught me everything about politics. Above all he was a man of great ability and integrity. He will be deeply missed by us all.¿

Labour TD Joe Costello said he was "shocked and saddened" to hear of Mr Gregory's death, describing the independent TD as "a legend in his time".

"He was deeply committed to the eradication of poverty in the north inner city and much of his political life was spent on seeking to improve the quality of housing and education and on combating unemployment, particularly in the north inner city," Mr Costello said.

"He was a champion in the fight against drugs in the 80s and 90s when whole communities were threatened by heroin and cocaine.

"Our constituency of Dublin Central will be much the poorer at his passing."

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams described his death as a "painful blow to his family, friends and the wider community of Dublin Central".

"It was his community activism - his skilful defence of the people of Dublin Central, whom he represented in Leinster House for more than two decades, that ensured his grassroots popularity and continued electoral success," Mr Adams said.

"But for Tony it wasn't just about being popular. He was a man of principle and integrity. He was a genuine champion of justice and equality issues - not just in his own constituency - but across Ireland and beyond."

Siptu general president Jack O¿Connor said Mr Gregory was a "fearless fighter for the people of Dublin".

¿It is hard now for many younger people to realise the great courage it took to stand up to the drug barons who used fear to promote their ugly trade in working class communities already devastated by poverty and unemployment," he said.

"On behalf of the union I offer our deepest condolences to his family. He will be deeply missed by all who knew him.¿

Dublin¿s Lord Mayor Eibhlin Byrne said Mr Gregory was "a true servant of the people".

"At a bleak time in Dublin¿s history he fought hard to alleviate deprivation and ensure job creation in Dublin¿s north inner city," she said.

"He did not seek self-aggrandisement but rather drove a hard bargain on behalf of his people. Tony was a pragmatic politician who dealt in reality rather than political grandstanding and his legacy can be seen throughout the inner city."