Dáil debates

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Death of Member: Expressions of Sympathy.


12:00 pm

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Is minic a smaoiníonn daoine ar thús nua agus iad ag smaoineamh ar an mbliain nua. Ach muidne a raibh aithne againn ar Tony Gregory ciallóidh bliain nua 2009 deireadh an aistir dó, aistear saoil a thug sé ar mhaithe le seirbhís don phobal. Bhí Tony Gregory ar dhuine de na Teachtaí ab fhaide sa Dáil. Ní raibh baint aige le haon pháirtí agus ba mhór aige an neamhspleáchas.

Thug Tony, seirbhís dílis dá phobal i mBaile Átha Cliath ar feadh beagnach 30 bliain. Chuidigh sé go mór le forbairt lár na cathrach agus chuidigh sé freisin leis na mílte le linn a shaol oibre. Níor loic sé deacrachtaí ná obair chrua ariamh. Bhí gean an-mhór aige ar an nGaeilge agus ar a oidhreacht Ghaelach. Thapaigh sé gach deis an Ghaeilge agus an oidhreacht a chur chun cinn. Bhí ard mheas ag cách ar Tony Gregory. Aireoidh a chomhghleacaithe ar ghach taobh den Teach seo uathu é go mór.

I was saddened to learn of Tony Gregory's passing on 2 January. I extend my sympathies and those of the Government and the party I lead to his family, friends and supporters. I especially want to express sympathies to Tony's brother, Noel, and his partner, Annette Dolan. At his funeral last month, I recall Annette describing Tony as a man of principle and integrity who fought passionately for what he believed in. For me, that description encapsulates the Tony Gregory I knew and whom I served alongside in this House for nearly 25 years. Tony Gregory was a man of strong principle and he was a man of great integrity. Irrespective of whether one agreed with or differed from Tony politically, it was hard not to be impressed by his passionate belief in politics and his determination to do his utmost for his constituents.

Tony Gregory's all-too-soon death is a source of deep regret to all of us in this House who knew and respected him. He served his country and his local community well in a lifetime that was devoted to helping others. He cherished his roots in Dublin's north inner city and he never strayed from them.

In a distinguished career in local and national politics, Tony represented the inner city with great dedication and distinction for close on 30 years. He was a proud Dubliner, a great advocate for his community and a diligent public representative.

Tony Gregory was born in 1947 and as a young boy he would have seen at first hand the grinding poverty that was a common feature of inner-city Dublin life in the 1950s and the early 1960s. The lack of adequate housing and the prevalence of unemployment were just two of the underlying problems the people in this area had to contend with at that time and for many years before it. These were issues that Tony Gregory would spend a lifetime battling to resolve.

Throughout his career, Tony was always a strong advocate of education as a key means to tackle social exclusion and deprivation. Tony Gregory had been educated by the Christian Brothers in O'Connell's CBS before studying at University College Dublin. He had a strong interest in Ireland's history, culture and native language and he graduated as a teacher. As a young man, he taught history through Irish in Coláiste Eoin, Stillorgan. Contemporaries of mine studied under him and remember him with great affection and respect. He was, by all accounts, a dedicated and committed teacher but his great vocation would lie in helping the people of his own community through politics.

Tony's earliest political involvement was in the official republican movement, in the Dublin Housing Action Committee and subsequently in the Irish Republican Socialist Party. It was, however, as an independent community activist that Tony was first elected to Dublin City Council in 1979. This election commenced a quarter of a century's unbroken service on the city corporation.

As well as having served his electorate in a distinguished career working hard for the well-being of the people of his native city on the council, Tony also served his constituents with the same enthusiasm and commitment here in Dáil Éireann. He just missed out on being returned to the 22nd Dáil in 1981 in his first outing in a general election but he did not have long to wait before he claimed a seat in Leinster House.

The early 1980s were volatile political times with three elections in 18 months. Tony Gregory was a successful candidate in the first general election of February 1982 and he held his Dáil seat in every subsequent election. Prior to his passing, Tony Gregory was by far the longest serving Independent Deputy ever in the Dáil. All in all, he contested four local elections and nine general elections, and bar a close-run defeat in his first general election, Tony was successful in every single election he contested.

The people of Dublin Central consistently voted for Tony Gregory because of his well-deserved reputation for hard work and his commitment to the disadvantaged in society. His electoral record is all the more remarkable given that he achieved this level of success without the support of a political party and in a strongly competitive constituency that included some of this country's most talented and biggest political names, including the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern.

Tony Gregory preceded me into this House, having first been elected in February 1982. By that stage, he was a prominent figure in Irish politics and, through the famous "Gregory deal", he became one of Ireland's most recognised public representatives. I first got to know Tony when I was elected to Dáil Éireann in a by-election in 1984. I know that Tony was proud of the fact that his mother hailed from the Croghan area of County Offaly and he reminded me of that fact on a number of occasions down the years.

As a young Deputy, I remember well the atmosphere that gripped this Chamber following the 1987 general election when Deputy Gregory rose to speak on the nomination of Taoiseach. His decision to abstain on the crucial division allowed the then Ceann Comhairle, Seán Treacy, to use his casting vote to resolve the constitutional impasse facing the country. This decision removed the spectre of a second general election, which would have eroded further confidence in our country, and helped inject some much-needed stability into our political system.

Tony was always courteous and had a fine sense of humour. He had an insightful knowledge of many issues, especially social deprivation and the problems caused by drugs. I respected the sincerity of the views he often held and expressed trenchantly in the House, and no one could fail to be impressed by his courage.

Through the 1980s and beyond, he refused to be intimated by drug pushers who were preying on the young people in his community. I have no doubt he will be greatly missed by all his Oireachtas colleagues, who respected him greatly.

Tony Gregory had a strong interest in Irish history and he had a deep affinity for James Connolly who was a central figure in the republican and labour tradition from which Tony hailed. Connolly's Irish Citizen Army had championed the cause of Dublin's working class during the 1913 Lock Out. At Tony's funeral, the blue and white of the Starry Plough flag, the same flag that is synonymous with the Citizen Army, draped Tony Gregory's coffin on his final journey to Balgriffen Cemetery. As the people who attended his funeral applauded as the funeral hearse brought him on his last journey, I watched and felt there was something very moving and deeply appropriate about that scene. The Irish Citizen Army served neither King nor Kaiser but Ireland and her people. So too did Tony Gregory. The people knew it and appreciated it greatly. He was a hardworking Teachta Dála — a true messenger of the people — who served his community with sincerity, commitment and skill. He was active on behalf of his constituents and the Irish public right up until the end. May he now rest in peace. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Mayo, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

On behalf of the Fine Gael Party I would like to tender our expression of sympathy to the family and friends of the late Tony Gregory, in particular to his brother Noel and his partner Annette. Those of us who have been here since 1982 or prior to that have been through the conveyor belt of politics with Tony Gregory. For me two occasions stand out in my mind that were both essentially Tony Gregory. The first was his coming in here as an elected Deputy in 1982 and the second was a beautiful mass in St. Agatha's Church on the day of his removal and burial.

The brightness of his eye and the intensity of his voice were distinctive. It was the conviction of his belief that politics could actually influence circumstances for the good, and that politics could influence the environment in which people lived that drove Tony Gregory to say things in this House that were direct, real and truthful. He was never afraid to tell one about his constituency, about the kind of people who lived there, the streets, the tenements and the houses, and what it was that was needed to change all that. This was an area that was neglected by all Governments. Sitting in that seat up there in 1982, having come in with his entourage from Dublin Central and having agreed with the late Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, a particular set of infrastructural developments in that constituency, he read out that list from those benches, much to the annoyance and consternation of others that the Taoiseach, anxious to hold on to power, signed up for that deal. Tony Gregory never suffered plámás. He was not the kind of person who suffered fools easily.

In his maiden speech he set out the details of what he considered were necessary for his people, to deal with education, poverty, housing and the scourge of drugs that were then beginning to sweep across sections of this city. He was a mould breaker because he was one of the few people, if not one of the first, from the location where he was born to, as the Taoiseach said, take summer jobs and go to UCD and qualify. In later years when Deputy Quinn was Minister for Finance and third level fees were abolished it was partly for that reason, to encourage young people from previously deprived or disadvantaged areas to go to third level college. Tony Gregory epitomised in his own life that mould breaking and rising to that challenge.

As for the tie, or lack of it, he always said he was sent here by his constituents, that he was entitled to be here in this Chamber and no rules of decorum would prevent him from saying what he had to say. He was admired for that. He became well known throughout the land.

I spoke to him outside the new building of Leinster House 2000 shortly before he became really ill and he said he did not speak about the illness — cancer — that it was something he had to bear alone, and so he did with great dignity and courage. He regretted never having the opportunity to either sit in the Ceann Comhairle's chair or to serve as a Minister of State. He made no bones about the fact that were he given that opportunity his drive would have been to clean the streets of Dublin of drug barons and drug pushers and prevent the misery and disruption that has happened to so many young people who have become victims of that scourge in the meantime.

Mar a dúirt an Taoiseach, is minic a labhair Tony as Gaeilge. Bhí Gaeilge líofa aige. Bhí sé báúil don teanga an t-am ar fad. Nuair a bhí mé ag sochraid Tony ina Dháilcheantar, chuir sé áthas orm tar éis an aifrinn go raibh a lán daoine ag labhairt Gaeilge. Bhí an iar-Theachta, Tony, báúil leo siúd ar fad. Tá sé imithe ar shlí na fírinne. Tá sé imithe ach tá sé fós i meoin na ndaoine. Tá an obair a rinne sé ar feadh 30 bliain le feiceáil sa Dháilcheantar sin.

He may be gone but for anyone who has been here with him since 1982 he was the epitome of a politician of conviction, who wanted to use this House for the betterment of his people. Go ndéanfaidh Dia trócaire ar a anam dílis.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

On behalf of the Labour Party I very much welcome the opportunity to pay tribute to Tony Gregory and to extend my sympathy and that of the Labour Party to his partner Annette Dolan, his brother Noel, and all his family and friends. Although we all knew that Tony was ill and admired the way he battled his illness with characteristic grit and determination it was still a great shock to learn of his death in the shadow of Christmas on 2 January last.

Tony Gregory was by any standards a remarkable public representative who left a lasting mark on the Dáil and on Irish politics in general. Only the most capable and resilient of politicians would be able to be elected as an Independent over eight separate general elections and serve more than 27 years continuously in this House while all the time defending and maintaining his status as an Independent.

Tony burst onto the national political scene with his election to the Dáil in 1982 but even at that stage he was well known and respected within the Dublin Central constituency having effectively represented the people of the north inner city on Dublin City Council. When we are first elected to the Dáil, most of us find coming into this House a fairly intimidating experience. Being elected for the first time as an Independent must be a particularly daunting experience but Tony Gregory never allowed himself to be overawed by the Dáil or its procedures. He showed remarkable political acumen in using the pivotal position in which he found himself in the aftermath of the 1982 general election to highlight the need of his constituents and the broader political constituency he served, and in demanding action to deal with their problems. I am sure all the taoisigh in waiting at that time thought they would have no difficulty in dealing with a political novice but instead, they found themselves outwitted, outfoxed and out negotiated. The deal provided for jobs and housing in his own constituency but it is sometimes overlooked that it was not just confined to meeting the needs of his constituents. Under the terms of the agreement, for example, 440 houses were to be built in his own constituency but another 1,600 were to be provided in the rest of Dublin. It was not Tony Gregory's fault that the political instability of that time led to much of the agreement he negotiated not being implemented as he would have wished.

However, he should be remembered for much more than the Gregory deal. He left a lasting impression on this House and was able and willing to contribute on a wide range of issues. He had an obvious love for the people he represented and the people of Dublin Central had an obvious love of him, as was evident by the very genuine and heartfelt expressions of grief we heard from the people of his constituency following his death.

One of the many things Tony will be remembered for is his battle against drugs and drug peddlers. Tony saw at first hand the pain and misery inflicted on the people of his own constituency by the drugs barons. He was one of the first political figures to recognise the extent of the emerging drugs problem during the 1980s and he showed remarkable courage and disregard for his own personal safety by being prepared to personally confront drug dealers. He also showed the extent of his commitment to his constituents when he was prepared to go to prison in 1986 because of his stance in defence of Dublin street traders, many of whom lived in his constituency.

Tony Gregory was a champion of the disadvantaged and, as the Taoiseach said, Tony drew his political inspiration from James Connolly. It was appropriate that he should go to his place of rest draped in Connolly's flag. He also drew much of his internationalism from Connolly's inspiration. Tony Gregory was a genuine internationalist who was always prepared to support the struggles of oppressed peoples abroad. I had the privilege of sharing a parliamentary visit to the West Bank a few years ago with him and he would have been outraged by what was happening in Gaza at the time he was laid to rest.

Bhí ghrá faoi leith ag Tony don Ghaeilge. Roimh a thréimhse mar Theachta Dála, ba mhúinteoir é i scoil lán-Ghaelach, scoil atá lonnaithe ina Dháilcheantar féin. Bhí sé suntasach, tar éis a bháis, gur chas mé ar an-chuid d'iar-scoláirí Tony a chur in iúl dom an meas mór a bhí acu ar Tony. Níl dabht ar bith ní hamháin gur Teachta thar barr ab ea Tony Gregory, ach gur sár-mhúinteoir ab ea é freisin. Níor chaill Tony a chuid Gaeilge tar éis dó an múinteoireacht a fhágáil. Bhain sé úsáid as an nGaeilge go minic sa Teach seo agus i ndíospóireachtaí ar an raidió agus ar an teilifís.

Tony Gregory was a unique figure in Irish politics over almost 30 years. We may never see his like again and that is a great loss for the people of Dublin Central, politics, our democratic system and, especially, for those who were closest to him personally and politically.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context

On behalf of the Green Party, I join colleagues in paying tribute to our late colleague, Tony Gregory, who was first elected to the Dáil in 1982. We all knew Tony was very ill but we thought, perhaps unrealistically, that he would pull through and, therefore, the news of his death came as a shock. Tony dealt with his illness with characteristic fortitude and dignity and it is a tribute to the man that, even at his weakest point, he came into the Dáil every day to serve his people. I also pay tribute to his secretary, Valerie Smith, who during this illness kept the show on the road. We often forget the importance of our secretaries in these moments and Valerie played a huge role.

The Green Party Members got to know Tony very well because we shared a corridor. His office was next to that of our former party leader, Deputy Sargent, and we engaged with him every Dáil sitting day on the issue of the day. My own memories go back further to when I served with him on Dublin City Council and to the 1980s when I worked with his colleague, Mick Rafferty, in the inner city where Tony had acquired legendary status because of the Gregory deal.

However, one only gets to know somebody when one is removed from the hurly burly of the Dáil and takes a trip. Many colleagues went on trips with Tony, who liked travel, and I often feel it is a pity he did not get the opportunity to write a travel book because it would have been interesting. I recall him telling me on one occasion about walking the beach in Rio de Janeiro, which was a highlight for him. It was a memory he cherished very much. Two trips stand out for me. I accompanied Tony to NATO headquarters. We were invited and I will never know why because we spent the entire time criticising the actions of the organisation and the bombing of Belgrade. At the end of it, they were sick of us and they wanted to get rid of us.

The second trip was to Palestine and we were also accompanied by Deputies Ó Snodaigh and Gilmore. It was an eye-opener and it was entirely appropriate that his brother, Noel, spoke so passionately about the plight of the Palestinian people at his funeral. None of us will ever forget what we witnessed in Hebron during that trip. I recall Tony being a genial companion and a great story teller. He told us the stories about the Gregory deal, his dealings with Charles Haughey, for whom he had respect, the electoral contests he had, his political opponents, the influence of Seamus Costello on him and the great shock his murder caused him and how it moved him in a certain direction in politics.

He loved politics and he loved the inner city. He got a thrill from the film made about Veronica Guerin because it rightly gave him credit for the introduction of the Criminal Assets Bureau, which should be highlighted in his career. Tony was a public figure but, essentially, he was a shy man. My experience was that he did not enjoy public speaking and he only did it if he had to and if he believed in the subject. I also recall him as someone with a wicked sense of humour and someone who would tell a person where to go if he or she annoyed him, which I did on occasion.

However, I regret very much that he never became Lord Mayor of Dublin. He was the quintessential Dub and he would have been a fantastic Lord Mayor. Deputy Kenny stated he could have occupied other positions in the House. It would have been tremendous for politics if he had made it as a Minister or as Ceann Comhairle because, at the end of the day, he believed passionately in public service.

He was a man of principle who was brave and spoke out against the drug barons when it could have cost him his life. He was a politician dedicated to social justice, equality and fairness. That sense of fairness extended not just to human beings but also to animals. I hope our animal welfare Bill, which is part of the programme for Government, will be a reminder of his commitment to the cause of animal welfare.

Tony will be sadly missed, not only in this Chamber, but by his constituents. On behalf of the Green Party, I would like to convey my sincere sympathies to his brother, Noel, his partner, Annette, and his wider family and friends. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context

On my own behalf and on behalf of the Sinn Féin Members and our party, I extend our deepest sympathy to Tony's family and friends. His loss will be felt especially by the people of Dublin Central for whom he was a diligent and dedicated elected representative over many years. As a former French and history teacher, Tony had among his pupils my colleague, Deputy Ó Snodaigh. Perhaps the Deputy is a product of Tony's years as an educator.

Tony Gregory won widespread respect for his work on behalf of the people of his native city. He was committed to social and economic justice and took a stand with the marginalised and oppressed in Ireland and worldwide. He was a believer in Irish unity, national sovereignty and positive neutrality. He gave his support to many progressive campaigns over his years of political activism. He was proud to belong to the socialist and republican tradition and repeatedly expressed his admiration for the late Séamus Costello.

Before the commencement of expressions of sympathy this morning, I was thinking that Tony might well be looking down with a wry smile at his family and friends as they, for a period, had the British ambassador and his colleague hemmed in in the Distinguished Visitors Gallery. Tony would certainly have thought that was apt and appropriate. He viewed with disdain corruption and privilege in Irish life, some of which during his time regrettably reached into this Chamber and the Cabinet.

Tony saw at first hand how the drugs trade ravaged his community, a community like so many others abandoned by the powerful and left prey to the drug barons who took so many young lives. He campaigned fearlessly against those drug barons and for the drug treatment and rehabilitation facilities that all too sadly are still not in place. As a sitting Deputy, Tony demonstrated a mettle on many occasions in this Chamber and outside it. One of those instances was his willingness to face imprisonment along with his close friend Councillor Christy Burke in support of the Moore Street traders.

As has already been mentioned, Tony played a key role in helping to put together the Technical Group in the 29th Dáil, providing a platform for the smaller parties, Sinn Féin and the Green Party, and the body of Independent Deputies elected to that Dáil. His voting and speaking record throughout all his years in the Dáil was consistently progressive and his passing is a significant loss to Irish politics. Fear dílis a bhí ann — dílis dá phobal, dá cheantar dúchais agus dá theanga dúchais. Bhí sé i measc na Teachtaí a labhrann go rialta trí mheán na Gaeilge sa Teach seo agus sna meáin cumarsáide.

I again extend the sympathy of the Sinn Féin Party to his partner Annette, brother Noel, his extended family, his many close friends and political associates in Dublin Central, and last but not least Valerie, his very loyal and hard-working parliamentary assistant here. Suaimhneas síoraí go raibh aige. Ba mhaith liom mo chomhbhrón a chur in iúl dá chlann agus dá chairde go léir.

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Dublin Mid West, Progressive Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I join the Taoiseach and other party leaders in extending my sympathy and that of the Progressive Democrats to the family and friends of the late Tony Gregory, to his partner Annette, his brother Noel, his secretary Valeria and his friends who are with us this morning. Unfortunately I was abroad when he passed away and was therefore unable to attend his funeral. Notwithstanding that we all knew how ill he was, I saw him in this House shortly before Christmas when he attended one Wednesday night during a Private Members' motion and I had a few words with him. While it was clear that he was very unwell, the essence of the man's courage and tenacity was that notwithstanding his serious illness he was still able to contribute so meaningfully to the business of the House.

As an Independent Deputy, clearly it was a challenge for him to be elected for more than a quarter of a century. Indeed it is a challenge for many people who belong to political parties. It must have been a particular challenge in a disadvantaged area for Tony Gregory to continue to be re-elected notwithstanding the competition of people like the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, the late Jim Mitchell and the many other formidable people in that constituency. His election represents the essence of the democratic process that we are all about. Regardless of whether we are elected as members of political parties or as Independents we are here to represent the people who elect us and Tony never forgot that.

Tony Gregory was passionate about the cause of the poor and the disadvantaged, and passionate about education and the Irish language. Above all else my memory of him will be of the very courageous speeches he made here and in his constituency against those involved in illegal drugs. He knew the cancer they were causing to so many young lives that were taken away and to so many families and communities that were destroyed.

Others have referred to his independent streak. When he was first elected to this House, he had a meteoric rise, because of the famous Gregory deal. He proved that politics and the formation of governments is not just an influencing power. It is not just about political alliances, but sometimes mathematics has a lot to do with it. As a single individual he held the balance of power. He came to national prominence as a result of the programme he negotiated with the former Taoiseach, the late Charles Haughey. He also came to prominence because he was the first man to refuse to wear a tie here. At the time there was as much furore caused about that as there was about the agreement he had reached with the then Government.

When Tony Gregory spoke here he was never frivolous. He was never a slave to clichés. He was always very thoughtful and informed, and he made great contributions. He was not somebody I knew well. He was a very private person. I did not have the benefit of ever going on a foreign trip with him. However, I did walk that beach with Deputy Higgins on a different trip.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I treasure the memory.

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Dublin Mid West, Progressive Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context

It is never to be forgotten I hope. That was during the environment summit, in case there is any confusion, when Deputy Higgins was doing a programme and he interviewed me walking along that beach. I never had the privilege to travel abroad with Tony Gregory, nor did I know him well — he was a very private person. However, in all his contributions here I never remember him being offensive to anyone even though he and I and many others would have disagreed about very many things. He made his point and pursued it through argument and discourse and not by offending people.

He is a great loss, obviously, to his family, to his partner and to Dublin Central, but he is also a big loss to this House. May he rest in peace.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context

It is with the greatest sadness that I speak today on the death of Tony Gregory. Before I say anything about the political Tony Gregory, Independent Deputy for Dublin Central, it is important to express my sympathy to those closest to Tony. I offer my sympathy to his brother Noel, his partner Annette, his close friends Liz, Francis, Fergus, Mick, Seánie, Maureen, Sadie, Paddy, Máire, Marie, Paddy and his secretary, Valerie. I also offer my sincerest sympathy to all of his extended family, friends, supporters and constituents. Tony will be deeply missed by us all. In a way I find it hard to believe that Tony is dead.

I first met Tony 26 years ago before I entered politics. I was working in St. Mary's boys' school in Dorset Street and Tony was a city councillor. He was campaigning on educational disadvantage, the drugs issue and major unemployment issues. He was also campaigning for the needs of the community and the needs of parents and children in our area. Our local objectives were the same and I joined his team dropping leaflets and canvassing. It was then I learned about community politics and also about the broader vision that Tony had for the country as a whole. In many ways he was an old-fashioned Connolly-ite with a great vision for the future based on equality and justice. He was also dedicated and a hard worker. I remember many nights after the canvass at 10.00 p.m. when we would all be dying to go for a pint, Tony would be heading off at 10.30 p.m. to do the night shift poster run. That is how hard he worked to get that seat against the odds. He was also an inspiration to all Independent candidates, councillors, Senators and Deputies

In 1999 when I was elected first to the Dublin City Council, Tony was the leader of the Independent group in City Hall along with Councillor Vincent Jackson. In 2002 he was the Whip of the Independent group of Deputies in the Dáil and he was the brains behind and a major broker in the formation of the Technical Group. He was very proud of this and of the unity of the Left in the Dáil. This was the spirit of Connolly coming through again and giving people hope once more. This was Tony's great achievement. He showed discipline, leadership and courage. I was very proud to be part of that group.

Most people know Tony Gregory for the Gregory deal and the drugs issue — and rightly so because they all made a difference and had an impact on people on the ground in the real sense of community politics. However, there was more to Tony than that. He believed in and supported Irish unity and independence, again from a Connolly perspective. He also despised sectarianism and racism and was always on the side of the men and women of no property. Noel, his brother, has asked me to say that his grandparents on both sides came from the Protestant tradition, a fact of which Tony was proud, and he was always very proud of the tradition of Tone and Connolly in this country. He despised oppression, injustice and inequality. Tony was also an internationalist, always on the side of the Palestinians and the Cubans, and he was completely anti-apartheid, particularly when it was not fashionable to be so.

With the permission of the Ceann Comhairle I wish to read into the record of the House a letter I received from the Cuban Ambassador to Ireland, Mr. Carillo, addressed to the Irish Parliament, which was written by Deputy Ramón Pez Ferro, president of the Cuban Commission for International Relations:

Havana, 5 of January of 2009

Year of the 50 Anniversary of the Revolution

Your Excellency Mr. Pedro Noel Carrillo Alfonso

Ambassador of Cuba


Dear Mr. Ambassador:

I would like to request to you on behalf of the National Assembly of the Peoples Power of the Republic of Cuba, to extend to the authorities of the Irish Parliament and especially to the relatives and colleagues of our dear friend, Deputy Tony Gregory our most sincere feelings [of] sadness and solidarity for his death.

We will always remember Mr. Gregory as a great friend of Cuba, from whom we always received his support and understanding.

We reiterate ours deepest condolences.

Deputy Ramón Pez Ferro


Commission for International Relations.

He always linked his community politics in the inner city with support for the oppressed world-wide. He brought this philosophy into Independent politics and was always uncompromising on these core principles. He was a street fighter on behalf of the poor and was also a very brave man when it came to tackling the drug barons. This was not easy. I remember situations when he faced down drug dealers and bullies in the interest of his community. It took courage and it took bottle. Tony would also take the pressure and intimidation on behalf of his own people and on behalf of his own community activists. This should never be forgotten as it was not easy, particularly in the current climate.

Many people may not be aware that Tony was also a huge supporter of people with disabilities and patients with cystic fibrosis and he was always encouraging me to push that agenda. He was always in the background advising and supporting me, and ensuring that I was not distracted from the main reason to be in politics, which is to deliver for people.

We also had some great times and many laughs along the way. We had great craic during the charity "You're a Star" programme, especially as he thought I would be knocked out on the first night. It was Tony and Valerie Smith who got the first call from RTE about that show and passed it on to me. I always remember his wry smile when he said: "That's the kind of wild show, McGrath, that you would probably like." However, I convinced him after three nights and I made him my manager and in the end he was cheesed off with me for not winning the final. However, we had two great weeks and we had great laughs. This was a side to Tony Gregory that many people would not be familiar with.

We also had some great laughs in the canteen, particularly with the Friday and Monday club consisting of a group of Deputies and journalists. We used to give Tony a hard time about getting duck from the staff even when it was not on the menu. The Minister, Deputy John Gormley, will remember this well. As I said earlier, Tony was the brains behind the formation of the Technical Group and was very protective and defensive of it. However, we used to see that look or dry smile on his face anytime Sam Smyth joked about people in the group, especially with remarks like: "They'd be a great crowd to fix your car." Tony enjoyed that kind of wit but if anyone crossed the line, they were finished and they got that look again.

There were many other laughs and good times both in the Dáil and in City Hall. It is hard to believe he is gone. He certainly made and left his mark. Tony Gregory will be remembered as a great politician, a great public servant, a dedicated and hard worker and a politician who loved his country. Tony would like the tradition of Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim and Dissenter, to live on and today in the Dáil we should all honour Tony by doing our best to develop and promote that vision for our country.

He had a firm and passionate belief that investment in education, in order to ensure equality of access to education, at pre-primary, primary, second level, further education and third level was required to break the cycle of poverty. He continued his commitment to rectifying social injustice by campaigning for issues such as adequate housing. We remember his untiring commitment to tackling the drugs problem. He showed tremendous courage in his naming in the Dáil of the major drug barons. Tony had a remarkable vision about how to respond effectively to the drugs scourge. He demonstrated that way forward at an early stage of the heroin crisis in Dublin, but unfortunately those in power did not introduce the measures Tony had suggested, including an inter-agency response, until it was too late. He would have made a fantastic Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, had he been given the opportunity.

Throughout his political career, he defended the rights of the weakest in society, which included street traders and old age pensioners. In recent months he made a very effective contribution to the debate on the retention of medical cards for the elderly.

He had a huge love of animals, which stemmed back to all the summers, which, as the Taoiseach noted, he spent at the foot of Croghan Hill in County Offaly on his granny's farm. He was, therefore, opposed to cruelty to animals and he took a firm stance in the Dáil on anti-blood sports issues. He had a love of the Irish language and culture. At times he used to give out to me for not speaking the language more often. He taught history through Irish in Coláiste Eoin in Stillorgan.

Tony was well-liked by politicians on all sides of the House. He did not personalise any issue. He focused on the issues and not the person. He never offended other politicians. While he will be very sadly missed by his brother Noel, partner Annette Dolan, close friends, relatives and supporters, his spirit and legacy will live on. He will not be forgotten and his tradition of community politics lives on.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I wish to be associated with the many fine tributes that have been paid here this morning to our late colleague, Tony Gregory. For almost 30 years, Tony and I have been shadowing each other at residents' meetings, public meetings and events of all kinds in our shared constituency of Dublin Central. We must have attended thousands of such meetings together and throughout that entire period we have been constituency colleagues, political opponents and friends.

When I first came across Tony, he was a community activist in the north inner city in the late 1970s. He became a member of Dublin City Council in 1979, the year after me. I was a Deputy for the constituency of Dublin Finglas but as it became clear that my political base was going to move into the new constituency of Dublin Central, I began to see more and more of Tony on a daily basis. We were both striving to do our best for people living in Dublin's inner city communities in the early 1970s.

It would be dishonest of me to say that Tony was someone I always agreed with because he would certainly look down at me today and say that was not a fair remark. He was most definitely a politician I greatly respected. Ideologically, we may have differed on what were the best solutions but Tony was always earnest and sincere. As a long-time political rival and an admirer of his, I can offer a genuine assessment that Tony Gregory gave total commitment to his constituents and made an undoubted difference to the city he loved. Everything that has been said by everyone here this morning, beginning with the Taoiseach, is very relevant. While he will be remembered nationally for perhaps a handful of issues, the breadth of his interests, both international and domestic, was extremely wide. I attended many meetings and heard him speak in the House and I heard him express his views on all those different issues.

Deputies will appreciate that there was always much competition and rivalry between Tony and I and our respective supporters but that rivalry was never personal and I believe it benefited our constituents who gained from our eagerness to deliver for local residents. In all my years as an office holder, Tony and his friends always asked me to attend events of which they were the originators or in which they were passionately involved. I always appreciated that. Our rivalry was also the source of much banter and fun over the years in the constituency, and even beyond the constituency. Throughout the 1980s, he was the guy without the tie and I was the fella in the anorak.

Today, I want to acknowledge Tony's unyielding efforts on behalf of our community and our constituency. He worked hard always, even during his illness. His untimely passing means Dáil Éireann has lost one of its hardest working Deputies. His constituents have lost a passionate and committed representative. He has also played an honourable part in securing progress in improving the quality of life of Dubliners, and not only in Dublin Central.

On the day he passed away I said that any economic and social history of Dublin over the past 30 years would be incomplete without reference to the determined work and strong commitment of Tony Gregory. That perhaps started with the Gregory deal but it never ended for him. He continued to passionately argue for all of those actions he believed should be done. Whenever those records are written it will surely be the case that his input is acknowledged.

Tony Gregory achieved much for Dublin and in Irish public life. I would like to mention two areas, one of which has been mentioned by almost every Member and another that has not been mentioned at all. On the drugs issue, I am aware, probably more than most, of the chances he took in leading those campaigns, and he was the leader of them. He took on some of the most vicious and ugly individuals who were part of the citizens of the great capital that Dublin was during the 1980s and into the 1990s. That was not without enormous risk, and it would be unfair if that determination was not acknowledged long after these contributions conclude.

The other was an issue he raised frequently during Taoiseach's Question Time. In all the years I held that position, he came in here to question me about the ongoing work on the issue of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. He never let an opportunity go — the questions were normally in his name or the names of other Deputies — to raise that issue. Much of the work that took place, and the motivation to continue that work and the efforts I put in to continue it, were because he had raised the issue time again both privately and publicly, and in this House.

I will remember Tony as a man of integrity, a hard-working public representative and an all-round decent guy. While we were political rivals, with the exception of one issue that arose way back on which we differed, we were able to get on and do our work as good friends.

I extend my sympathy to his partner Annette, his brother Noel, all his family and friends, and to all his supporters both in and outside Dublin Central my deepest sympathies. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I wish to express my sincere sympathies to Noel Gregory, Tony's brother, his partner, Annette Dolan, Tony's wider family, his secretary, Valerie, and his many friends and supporters.

Before I ever got involved in politics, Tony Gregory was a legend. In 1982, the deal with Charlie Haughey had made him a household name, not only in the north inner city but throughout the country.

I first got to know Tony Gregory through our mutual support for Dublin's traditional street traders. As the Deputy for the area, Tony represented the casual traders from Moore Street, Cole's Lane, Henry Street and surrounding streets when they were being chased from pillar to post by the gardaí at the behest of the Dublin City Centre Business Association. Through the prisoners' rights organisation I represented the same traders when they ended up in Mountjoy Women's Prison.

In 1985 our paths crossed more directly when we both supported a pram protest outside the GPO on O'Connell Street which brought traffic on one side of the street to a halt. The pram was the stall used at that time by the women traders to sell fruit, vegetables and flowers. The anthem of the day was, "Stand by your Pram". We ended up sharing a paddy wagon down to Store Street Garda station where we spent the evening in a rather smelly cell together. After a couple of visits to the Four Courts we eventually spent a week in Mountjoy Prison.

The other major issue of the day was drugs. Heroin took a terrible toll on the north inner city in the 1980s and 1990s and because addicts shared their needles in the early years it was accompanied by an epidemic of AIDS. Tony Gregory was a strong public voice of anger against State neglect of treatment facilities for addicts on the one hand and the complete failure by the State authorities to pursue drug pushers on the other. Public meetings and public marches were the order of the day for most of the 1980s and 1990s as the community fought back.

Many of the people in the Distinguished Visitors Gallery today were active members on the ground in those long, difficult years. When the State eventually woke up, the Criminal Assets Bureau introduced by Deputy Ruarí Quinn, the Proceeds of Crime Bill introduced by the then Minister, Nora Owen, and the drugs task forces introduced by Deputy Pat Rabbitte in 1996 and 1997 were developments that owed a great deal to the campaigning efforts of Tony Gregory in Dublin Central.

Tony probably would not want this opportunity to go by without me making a special plea to ensure there are no cutbacks in the current level of funding for the local drugs task forces and the local community projects which do sterling work in the fight against drugs.

Politically, Tony and I were often at odds as we both sought votes from the same rather limited pool. With some of the big names in Irish politics — Deputy Bertie Ahern, the late Jim Mitchell and Tony Gregory — Dublin Central was not for the faint hearted.

Tony never tired of chiding me in the presence of local Dublin voters, particularly inner city voters, saying, "How could you possibly vote for a culchie like that?" I did not know at that time that Tony himself was a half culchie, his mother being from Offaly, the Taoiseach's constituency.

Tony and I did agree on most policy matters. In the thousands of meetings we attended throughout the constituency for a quarter of a century, we scarcely disagreed on a single policy issue.

On a personal level Tony Gregory was witty and sharp. He enjoyed the craic and if he could get one up on one, he would do so with great glee. He was also a consummate politician. He was focused, forensic and radical. He made a significant difference in his time.

Shortly after the last election Tony was struck down with illness. His absence from meetings in the constituency was particularly noticeable as Tony never missed a meeting. He fought his illness bravely, privately and with dignity. He sadly lost that battle on 2 January 2009.

Tony will be sorely missed by his family, constituents and political colleagues alike. Ireland has lost one of its finest public representatives. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Photo of Cyprian BradyCyprian Brady (Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I consider it a privilege to contribute to these expressions of sympathy on the death of the late Tony Gregory. I extend my own personal condolences to Noel, Annette, Valerie and his many friends and colleagues throughout the constituency of Dublin Central and the country.

I first met Tony Gregory over 20 years ago, and even then he was a well-established leading politician in Dublin Central. I noticed he had a very close, loyal, committed team around him and that the team was not just active at election time. Many of the members of that team have gone on to be community activists recognised in their own right.

I had the privilege of studying the Tony Gregory model of politics over the years and as my constituency colleagues have said, we might have come across each other at various functions or meetings three, four or five times a day. There is continuous canvassing in Dublin Central but Tony Gregory's main strength was that he was the epitome of a local Deputy, looking after his neighbours and the needs of his constituents.

As other Members said, Tony was involved in many issues. I personally admired him for his tackling of the drugs scourge in inner city Dublin. Not many know that Tony was one of the main architects of what are now known as the drugs task forces and the national drugs strategy which covers not just Dublin, but the country. Many of his colleagues were also involved in that process.

He was interested in many areas but what struck me was the passion and commitment he gave to all of them, whether it was community policing, the Moore Street traders or social housing. Tony Gregory's legacy will live for many years and it will be seen in the young children and young people throughout Dublin city who are in better schools and houses. That legacy will also be seen in the many thousands of friends and constituents he worked for over the years. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Members rose.