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.