Friday, January 02, 2009

So. Farewell Then, Tony Gregory

The late Tony GregoryHow sad it is to hear of the death of Tony Gregory, TD, this evening. Mr Gregory died today at St Francis’ Hospice in Raheny after fighting a long and brave battle with cancer. Cancer eventually won, like it does.

Tony Gregory’s death marks the end of an era in Irish politics. The eighties were not a good time for the country, but Mr Gregory will always be remembered with fondness and affection as a good man in a bad world.

Persons of a certain age will remember Tony Gregory’s vivid entry into Irish public life in 1982. Country bumpkins, such as your correspondent, An Spailpín Fánach, were always aware that there were some hard chaws in Dubbalin town but seeing some bowsie with no respect for God, man or the divil marching into Dáil Éireann with no tie on him was taking things a bit far. Gregory delivered his famous Gregory Deal to his constituents in the north inner city of Dublin, while we in the hungry west left the snipe grass for Cricklewood and Camden Town, just like we always did. One-nil to the De Dubs, once more.

And then the years rolled on, as they do, as the country changed through the eighties with the building of the IFC and the re-generation of Temple Bar (both in Dublin). Eventually, the first mewlings of the Celtic Tiger became a full, throaty roar and all those heaps and heaps of money suddenly manifesting around the country affected Tony Gregory not in the slightest. In the slightest.

This, I think, is Gregory’s greatest asset, and what makes him such a remarkable man in our political life. Irish politics is notoriously short on principle; principle Gregory had in spades. While others bleat about injustice over plates of smoked salmon, Tony Gregory did stir in the ‘Joy out of solidarity with the Moore Street traders. We live in an age where socialist candidates for the Dáil canvas outside Morton’s supermarket in Ranelagh, just about the last place you’d think of to cash in your butter vouchers. Tony Gregory kept his head down and stayed with his people.

It was interesting, listening to some of the radio reportage on him this evening, to find out just how private a man Tony Gregory was. Most politicians, whether they are aware of it or not, choose that terrible and doomed-to-failure life because they cannot resist the siren songs of power and prestige. Tony Gregory dealt with that world with gritted teeth. He was an unlikely candidate to appear on Fáilte Towers or Celebrity Jigs 'n' Reels.

Stephen Collins, political editor of the Irish Times, told Ivan Yates on Newstalk this evening of how little Gregory cared for journalists or their company, and how deeply suspicious he was of them. This is the diametric opposite of most politicians, who normally try to inveigle themselves with the fourth estate by attempting to drown the quillsmen with free whiskey. An approach that can be very successful in that very clubby world of Irish public life.

Speaking of whom; a journalist remarked on a radio station this evening that Tony Gregory’s refusal to wear a tie to the Dáil was revolutionary in the ‘eighties, whereas the Green Party’s Paul Gogarty now regularly appears in the chamber with an open collar. Tony Gregory famously remarked, when questioned about the tie back in the ‘eighties, that most of his constituents couldn’t afford a tie. Mr Gregory represented the damned and dispossessed, the people of Sherriff Street and Amiens Street, of Ballybock and Summerhill and Mountjoy Square. Mr Gogarty has a You Tube link on his page on the Green Party website about confessing one’s carbon sins at the Electric Picnic. Maybe a tie is not the only measure of a man.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh anam uasal Tony Gregory, fear cróga a sheasadh a fhód ar son a mhuintir gan bogadh gan bacadh. Ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann.

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