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“Tony Gregory: The Biography of a True Irish Political Legend” November 29, 2011

Posted by irishelectionliterature in Books.
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About the book

As harsh economic times return to Ireland, it is time to celebrate this inspirational Irishman who made his name as a grass-roots community activist and went on to hold the balance of power in Ireland.

Tony Gregory’s political life has left an exceptional legacy. Robbie Gilligan has talked to the whole “kitchen cabinet” and covers his whole career, from local agitator to elected politician, and the campaigns from 1978-2009.

I read the book as someone who, like many of us, admired Tony Gregory from afar. I’m lucky too in that I have quite a number of his election leaflets spanning from 1985 to his death (my late Grand Aunt kept the earlier ones and later on various people, including the candidate sent them on to me). I was in secondary school when I met him in the mid 80s as he addressed a group of us who were staying in the Inner City for a number of days. Of course some of you will have worked with him, knew him, supported him and so on.

First off the author Robbie Gilligan is important (although there was I gather some fuss about the book launch) .  The reader is blessed that its someone who although not part of the inner circle,  knew Tony Gregory, knew the people around him, worked with him and probably as important was his familiarity with the issues and people in the Inner City that Tony represented.  It could easily have been one of the usual hacks choosing Gregory as the subject of a book and not giving the reader such an insight into both Gregory and the North Inner City Community.

Naturally Tony Gregory’s background is covered in detail, his mother was from Offaly (Later in the book Gregory mentions his Offaly roots in a speech wishing Brian Cowen luck in his new role as Taoiseach) and father a Dubliner. As they only had two children Tony and Noel they were refused a place on Dublin Corporations waiting list (you had to have had at least 4 children to qualify at the time).  The man in the Corporation is quoted as saying  “Come back when you’ve six” .After 12 years in a one roomed flat the family bought a house in Sackville Gardens, Ballybough. A house Tony lived with until his death.
Tonys work ethic and the values of education encouraged by his family, led to him winning a scholarship to O’Connells which turn led to a career in teaching. Amongst his former pupils at Coláiste Eoin were Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Liam O’Maoinlai and Colm Mac Eochaidh.
All the while he was forming politically. Initially Sinn Fein, Official Sinn Fein before a brief dalliance with Seamus Costello and then The Socialist Labour Party. It was though through his involvement in Community groups that led him through to success at the City Council elections of 1979.
‘The Gregory Deal’ is covered in detail ,the background to the demands, the negotiations, the impact and of course the Deal itself which printed in full. Whilst at the time it was trumpeted as a purely local, there were in fact many national issues covered in it too.
This is Tony Gregorys maiden speech to the Dail which is quoted in the book

Mr. Gregory-Independent: A Cheann Comhairle, I preface my remarks by wishing you well in your position. Since my election to the Dáil my advisers and I have had extensive talks with Deputy FitzGerald, Deputy Haughey, Deputy O’Leary and the other Independent groups. At all these meetings we presented the contenders with the same basic proposals. These proposals were exact [26] and specific developments of the issues for which I stood in the election.

Two major considerations dictated our approach to these negotiations: first, to try to get clear commitments from a future Taoiseach on tackling the issues with which we are concerned and on which I was elected; secondly, we were conscious of the responsibilities placed upon us to interpret the balance of political forces in the Dáil and to make a decision that would encourage the development of progressive and class politics. This was no easy task.

I interpreted the result of the election and my own election in particular as demonstrating that the two main political parties have failed to respond to the needs fo our society. I had no illusions about the differences between the main political parties. Policies, not personalities, influenced my decision. The decision I have come to has not been taken lightly and certainly not with a view to maintaining any particular party in power. My decision is purely tactical and based on achieving as many as possible of the issues that I was elected on.

Specifically, my decision is based on a clear difference in response from Deputy Haughey and Deputy FitzGerald. Given the commitment by Deputy Haughey, witnessed and signed by the General Secretary of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union I had no alternative but to support a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach. The issues to which Deputy Haughey committed himself included a major increase in Dublin Corporation’s housing programme, which has been a scandal for years, the allocation of £91 million for housing in 1982, and a commitment to reach 2,000 houses by 1984 was given. Four hundred new housess in the north centre city area will be started this year.

Mr. E. Collins: What about the rest of the country?

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: This is Deputy Gregory’s maiden speech and it is customary [27] for no interruptions to take place during a Member’s maiden speech.

Mr. Gregory-Independent: I regret, though I understand it, that some members of the Opposition do not appreciate the importance of these commitments. I certainly do. I should like to go on with the details and the basis on which I shall give my support to Deputy Haughey as Taoiseach. An almost total breakdown of Dublin Corporation services will now be averted as a result of a commitment by the Leader of Fianna Fáil to allocate a further £20 million to Dublin Corporation’s budget for this year.

On the issues of employment we put specific proposals to Deputy Haughey. He committed himself to an immediate work force of 500 men costing £4 million for a corporation environmental works scheme and more than 150 additional craftsmen at a cost of £1,500,000 in addition to the present staff to be employed and to give a major boost to the corporation’s repairs and maintenance service. A commitment to nationalise Clondalkin Paper Mills to save the jobs of 500 men if no other option presented itself immediately was given. This commitment is a demonstration of a new departure and attitude to the development of our natural resources.

The controversial and destructive motor way plan will not now be proceeded with. The vital 27 acres on the Port and Docks Board site will be nationalised and developed along lines geared to the needs of centre city communities. In the field of education a major commitment to pre-school education along with the provision of a £3 million community school for the neglected centre city area was given, this being part of the designation of the central city area as an educational priority area. Advances in the taxing of derelict sites, office developments, financial institutions and development land were agreed to. A national community development agency will be set up for a budget of £2 million to replace and continue the work of the Combat Poverty Committee.

[28] These are some of a very comprehensive list of agreed policies between my advisers and the Leader of the Fianna Fáil Party. Deputy FitzGerald in his response, though sincere and genuine, was most pessimistic and did not approximate remotely to the commitments given by Fianna Fáil.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Gregory-Independent: Having assessed the responses of the two contenders there were two further considerations which we felt were important.

(Interruptions.)

A Deputy: What about Cork?

Mr. Gregory-Independent: One was the role of the five Independent Socialist Deputies and the hope that they could agree to a common strategy in electing a Taoiseach. The decision of Sinn Féin the Workers Party not to participate in an alliance prior to the election of the Taoiseach and on the election of the Taoiseach, a decision which we respect as their right, made our hoped-for alliance impossible. The position of the Labour Party was also important to us because of the common ground between us on social and economic issues. Their decision not to participate in Government effectively ruled out any other option but to give conditional support to the election of a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach. Once a Government have been elected they will receive my support only in so far as they pursue the programme of agreed commitments and other acceptable policies to me.

Beidh mé ag votáil mar sin ar san an Teachta Ó hEochaidh sa toghachán le haghaidh an Taoisigh.

The book also deals with Tony Gregory in the context of ‘Tackling drugs and Crime”. There are some vivid descriptions of the havoc to the community caused by the Heroin epidemic. The inaction by the authorities, Tonys brave stance against dealers, The volume of addicts and the knock on effects of that. Later the horrors of HIV/Aids was added to misery caused by Heroin.
Aside from striving for better living conditions, jobs and education for his constituents, Gregory also was outspoken about crime. He was involved with the Concerned Parents against Drugs, a group that was in many cases ignored by official Ireland because of its minimal Sinn Fein element. Gregory also suggested a Criminal Assets Bureau , which took the murder of Veronica Guerin rather than the deaths of thousands of Heroin Addicts to come into being. He later on also suggested a mini CAB targeting the lower ends of the Drugs trade. The dealers driving around in the new four wheel drive, making the drug dealer lifestyle look appealing.
The Street Traders issue is also covered in detail and Gregory served time for standing by them. These were hard working local women trying to make ends meet. In this quote Tony Gregory entwines the Heroin, Class, the Gardai and the Street Traders well …..

“I want to mention something that makes me see red. It’s when I hear the Gardai whinging that they don’t have community support in the Inner City. I’ll just take two examples to make my point … when business firms demand Gardai action against unfortunate street traders, the Gardai arrive in force and bundle women and prams into paddy wagons and off to the calls in Store Street. But when the tenants or priests or community workers look for help against heroin pushers, the Gardai all but ignore them. The moral seems to be the Gardai are a tool for the rich to be used against the community. If the Gardai want community support in the city centre then they should act in the community interest. They could and should make heroin too hot to handle.”

Amongst other sections in the book are ‘Brand Tony’, ‘Republican issues’, ‘Environmental Safety and Planning’, Animal rights and ‘Foreign Affairs’ (There is a nice picture of him shaking hands with Fidel Castro in the book).
In relation to the crash we have Tony Gregory questioning the suitability of having Senior members of Anglo Irish Bank on the Board of the Dublin Dockland Authority. A Board that had authority over planning in the Docklands area…..
There is also a section on “His Critics and Opponents” with reference to relationships with some of the Left in that part and indeed in many other parts of the book.
Its a good read and well written.
I know this sounds corny but finishing the book I was left with the horrifying thought “What if there had been no Tony Gregory?”

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Comments»

1. Joe - November 30, 2011

Thanks IEL. Sounds like a great read.

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irishelectionliterature - November 30, 2011

Pleasure, its well worth reading.

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2. Organized Rage - November 30, 2011

I too thank IEL for this, if the life of Tony G proves one thing, it is that those on the left who cry bourgeois politics are a total sham are wrong.

Whilst it may not lead to permanent bright sunny up lands, it is possible to make real gains as Gregory proved. I suppose his failure, if one can call it that, as the responsibility alone was not his, was his inability to move from organising locally to building a progressive coalition nationally.

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irishelectionliterature - November 30, 2011

Funnily enough the foundation of the Technical Group from 2002 to 2007 which he was Chief Whip gave him a lot of pride. There were some like minded individuals there.

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Jim Monaghan - November 30, 2011

The gains were at most ephemeral. The Haughey deal died with the collapse of the government.
I regard him as personally very honest and dedicated.Here is the but.
He fell for “useful” politics”, in the long run the same as say Burton and the Labour party. The mantra or excuse was “why cry in the wilderness when as a minister or by striking a deal you can do something”.
I hear this swansong amongst the right in Sinn Fein. Leave things open to a deal. We are not like the Labour Party or Clann na Phoblachta, nevermind the stupid Greens.
Even Kemmy had some vision before he joined up with the Labour Party. Can the bigger (then) Workers Party claim anything of substance from their support of a bourgeois government.Across Europe this siren song of “useful” politics has destroyed many far left parties and politicians.The trap of the system almost makes me agree with O’Bradagh about the Leinster St. club and it awful influence.
As for ULA, please keep the relationship with the technical group purely technical. Let McGrath an co. swim in the same pond as Ross and co.

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Organized Rage - November 30, 2011

Jim

Without wishing to get into a big argument about reformism verses revolutionary, Gregory worked locally with a small support base of comrades, he was a non party local politician. I am not knowledgeable enough to know whether any of the deal he signed lasted beyond the life of the government he signed it with. You will understand this better than I.

However it seems to me Connolly had it about right when he said “We believe in constitutional action in normal times; we believe in revolutionary action in exceptional times.” Or some such.

When you make deals with the representatives of Capital you have to set out your aims clearly; and more important your fall back position and draw a line which you will not cross. (it cannot be flexible, for then your lost)

Unless I am mistake, my memory on this is not great, but surely the difference between the Labour Party or Clann na Phoblachta, nevermind the stupid Greens, let alone SF if they gain enough seats was this.

Unlike TG, the former wanted their bums on Government ministerial seats. Whereas Tony demanded and got some gains which would be beneficial to his constituents, not himself alone.

In other words he was not caught in the trap all small parties find themselves when they enter a coalition as the minor party. ie they become voting lobby cannon fodder, with a touch of window dressing thrown in.

As you said the government met his demands and they were only downgraded when they left office and a new government took office. In this world that is not to be scoffed at, nor was it back then. Unlike the LP etc comrade Gregory never sold anyone out and certainly not the working class people he voted for him

Comradely regards

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Ghandi - December 1, 2011

+1

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3. Wacko Sadaka - November 30, 2011

I don’t see many real gains aroudn the North inner city – things could have be worse? they could ahve been a lot better also. And the WP, as I understand it, were not looking for gains in 81-82 but merely buying some time to “fund raise” and R+R before another election.

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4. Jim Monaghan - November 30, 2011

“And the WP, as I understand it, were not looking for gains in 81-82 but merely buying some time to “fund raise” and R+R before another election.”
Which if true is sad.

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5. Tomboktu - November 30, 2011

Mr. E. Collins: What about the rest of the country?

Is that the same E. Collins that Garret FitzGerald sacked from junior ministry when he refused to resign? If so, why was he sacked?

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6. steve white - December 1, 2011

Whilst at the time it was trumpeted as a purely local, there were in fact many national issues covered in it too.

are there details of this in the book?

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irishelectionliterature - December 2, 2011

Yes, there are plenty of examples. Mostly to do with housing, education and community policing. You’ll notice the reference to Clondalkin Paper MIlls in his maiden speech as part of the Deal.
The Deal is an appendix on the book.
Theres a magill article from 1982 on the Deal here

http://politico.ie/politics/5433-tony-gregorys-deal-a-short-measure.html

Aside from the deal there were plenty of National issues.I mentioned a few such as CAB, The Dublin Port Authority and Animal rights above.

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7. Budapestkick - December 2, 2011

‘What about Cork?’

Rolling on the floor at that (though it does show the ultimate limitations of Gregory’s politics, admirable though he was)

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8. Joe - December 2, 2011

The excerpts from Gregory’s maiden speech above strike me as very impressive. He lists specific measures that have been agreed. “an immediate work force of 500 men costing £4 million for a corporation environmental works scheme and more than 150 additional craftsmen at a cost of £1,500,000 in addition to the present staff to be employed and to give a major boost to the corporation’s repairs and maintenance service.” Nationalisation of Clondalkin Paper Mills. The community school… that’s there now – Larkin College – and a great school it is too by all accounts. These were specific demands which would lead to concrete improvements in the lives of the people of inner city Dublin – an area with higher rates of poverty than anywhere else in the country at that time.
Another thing that struck me was Gregory’s reference to the “five independent Socialist deputies”. I think over the years, Tony Gregory would have moved from decribing himself in election literature as “independent socialist” to “independent community” to just plain “independent”. Which reflects that criticism that he sort of gave up on any “socialist” project as the years wore on.
I’m looking forward to reading the book. Have to say that any of us who are going to criticise Tony Gregory might need to look at our own records first!

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irishelectionliterature - December 2, 2011

As far as I know he never described himself as an ‘Independent Socialist’ on his election literature. From the leaflets I have or have seen, he was an “Independent Community Candidate” in 1979, 1985, 1987, 1991 and from at least 1999 onwards was an ‘Independent’.
In the earlier years he was very much an “Independent Community Candidate” as various community groups were very much his base.

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Joe - December 2, 2011

Thanks for that IEL. He includes himself as one of the “independent socialist” deputies in the Dáil in that maiden speech.
My recollection is that his posters in the early days would have been his photo surrounded by a red “frame”. Over time, there was less red and more other more neutral colours. I’m sad, I know!

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9. Shay Brennan - December 2, 2011

Compare and contrast with recently published book on the other independent socialist of the day, Jim Kemmy?
Does the Gregory book go into much detail on his attitudes to Northern Ireland?

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10. irishelectionliterature - December 7, 2011

On November the 20th John Bowman played a number of old interviews with Tony Gregory.
Click Link http://bit.ly/s45jlt and hit the play button.

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11. The Gregory Deal « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - July 23, 2012

[...] need your glasses but for those that haven’t seen the deal (which was reproduced in Robbie Gilligans book on Tony Gregory) it’s worth a look. The first page of the deal below… Share [...]

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