Sunday, January 4, 2009

Tony Gregory: 1947-2009

To the Wild Geese of Malcolm's generation, Tony Gregory is for ever the scowling Sticky, the North Dubliner, the history-teaching son of the North Wall dockworker, who went into the Dáil in 1982, and promptly out-bluffed Charlie Haughey, that great poker face, to the tune of £80+ million a year.

That is a story to be treasured.

There is a pen and ink drawing (left), by Frederico Zuccaro in the Getty at Pacific Palisades. It shows the arrival of Frederick Barbarossa at St Mark's, Venice, to submit to Pope Alexander III.

There ought to be a similar -- and as imaginative -- sketch showing the Great Charlus arriving at Summerhill Parade, that grey, grim February day in 1982, to try and bribe Gregory to support a minority Fianna Fail government. Gregory had his brother, Noel, and two key supporters (Fergus McCabe and Mick Rafferty) to back him.

Gregory had a price, and he set it high.

Incredibly, Haughey signed up -- repeat, signed his name -- to a deal that nationalised two plots of land in the Port of Dublin and at Clondalkin, that directly and immediately recruited 500 extra staff in inner Dublin (rising to some 3,750 in three years), and would build 2,000 new homes in Dublin (of which 450 were to be in Gregory's patch). When they shook hands at the end of the meeting, Haughey (no mean dealer himself) said, "As they say in the Mafia, it's a pleasure doing business with you."

Gregory had instantly risen from local street activist to national status. He would never again reach such heights.

Without exception, the Dublin Left reacted with an admixture of outraged scorn and breathtaken admiration: it merely depended where one's personal balance fell.

It marked the dawn of the age of Irish "stroke" politics. But Gregory's (although unrealised in effect) was the greatest stroke of all.

His death, last Friday, at the age of just 61 is a cruel full-stop to a remarkable, if unfulfilled career. He served his constituency well; and could frighten the hell out of more conventional politicos. May he retain that whiff of brimstone about him, wherever he now is bound.

The RTÉ web-site has Tony Gregory's reflective interview with Aíne Lawlor. Sphere: Related Content

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