Gregory deal would have had huge impact if fulfilled


OPINION:The Gregory deal was struck 30 years ago this week, but did it turn out to be a missed opportunity?

ON MARCH 9th, 1982, Tony Gregory stood up in the Dáil to give his maiden speech. He had been elected a TD in the general election the previous February 18th. When the excitement of his triumph had settled, we his supporters realised his vote would become indispensable in the election of the taoiseach for the 23rd Dáil. He held the balance of power.

Gregory and his team, of which I was part, had had discussions with the three main party leaders, and photographs of the meetings had appeared in this paper – so the Dáil was expecting him to make some kind of endorsement. But no one in the house was expecting an announcement of the most radical agreements between a future government and an Independent TD in the history of the Irish State.

What Gregory announced was the famous deal between himself and Charlie Haughey that came to take his name and would ensure the election of the latter as taoiseach: a comprehensive, integrated plan for the social regeneration of Dublin’s inner city, and more.

The details of the deal related to many government departments, and Haughey committed himself to ensuring Gregory and our group would have access to the process of implementing its provisions. Some items would require legislation, and he wanted to make sure it reflected what we intended.

Over the next couple of months we met officials and some ministers. I remember one such meeting in the Custom House with Ray Burke, then minister for the environment, on what I think was the draft Bill for setting up an inner city authority. He sat behind his desk with his officials and read out the text in a monotone of resentment. We stopped him at times for clarification or amendments.

The last time we met Haughey to review the agreement was in late July of 1982, at his request, this time in his office in Government Buildings. He again asked were we satisfied with progress. The answer was “Yes”.

Gregory added that since the previous meeting, a major heroin problem had developed in the city. Haughey seemed surprised and expressed the view there was an underworld of drugs in the city. No, we explained, this was different. This wasn’t a subculture of choice, but a deliberate attempt to create a drugs market based on addiction. Kids as young as 14 were being offered heroin as if it were sweets.

We had a robust discussion on why this was happening and how it related to criminal families moving away from “ordinary robberies” because of the security situation with the Troubles. Haughey asked who should be targeted, and Gregory told him the name of the family who were the chief importers and distributors of heroin in the city, the Xs.

Haughey immediately rang then Garda commissioner Patrick McLaughlin. He told him of his concerns about the emerging drug problem, asked him to put resources into surveillance on the family we had mentioned, and put the issue on the agenda for their next meeting.

When he put down the phone he said he was “bollixed” and was looking forward to his month on his island, Inishvickillaun. He asked us had we any plans for that August. We shook hands and left. It was the last time as a group we had dealings with Haughey.

A couple of weeks later he would get a call from McLaughlin telling him a suspect in a double murder case, Malcolm Macarthur, had been arrested in the private apartment of attorney general Patrick Connolly. And so were born the notorious series of events tagged as “GUBU” that led to the collapse of that Haughey administration.

The nail in the taoiseach’s coffin was when Gregory and Sinn Féin the Workers’ Party withdrew their support that November over a vote of confidence in the government’s economic strategy, The Way Forward. Gregory abstained on the vote, conflicted about bringing down the man who had committed himself to such a radical urban programme and who had delivered both on his promises and the emerging drugs challenge. He made the point, however, that this time his vote was not the determining factor in the outcome: “If my vote were to be the determining factor it would weigh heavily on me whether or not I was making the right decision.

“No matter what opposition politicians may say about the various concessions by deputy Haughey’s government, particularly on the inner city (the most disadvantaged urban area in the country), they were worthwhile and morally essential. If any future government deliberately winds down these measures they will do so to their own eternal disgrace.”

This was to be the epitaph of the Gregory deal. The Haughey government fell. It was replaced by a Fine Gael-Labour coalition, and the dreary eternal return of the same right-wing economics. As Gregory had predicted, his deal with Haughey was cast aside “like dog shite off a shoe”.

There are, in retrospect, two particular aspects of the deal and what came out of our empowered position with Haughey that are to be regretted: firstly, the plan to nationalise the 27 acres of port land and develop it for social need and not for private profit did not in the end come to pass. The whole docklands were subsequently developed as a financial hub with profit as the god, and bankers and speculators as its ardent high priests.

The absurdity would reach its zenith when a few miserable acres of reclaimed land in Ringsend were bought for more than €400 million. What if the alternative form of docklands development agreed to in the Gregory deal had gone ahead – could it have slowed down the property boom and saved us all grief?

The second item of agreement with Haughey was not even mentioned in the “Deal”. I have no doubt that, under our influence, Haughey would have accepted the urgency of dealing with the drug problem. It would take two decades for adequate measures to be put in place, and at that only after the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin in June 1996. By then the heroin horse had bolted.

Surely a historic opportunity missed?

Mick Rafferty, a former Dublin councillor and community activist in the inner city, was a close associate of the late Tony Gregory TD. Tonight at 7.30pm in the Pillar Room at the Rotunda Hospital, a discussion with the original Gregory team and guest speakers will be held.