I got to know Fiachra and his partner Stephanie Meehan while working on Priory Hall in 2010. He was a solid guy, striving to support his family while struggling with the never ending problems of a construction farce which should never have been allowed to emerge out of the ground it was built upon. It reflected the Ireland of the time, whereby the construction industry’s twin sacraments of self-regulation and substantial compliance easily became cardinal sins that were inflicted on buyers and residents. Buyer beware may have been the ethos guiding developers in Ireland but nobody paused to tell the buyers that they needed to beware. The country, seeking construction, was invaded by a plague of destruction developers eager to exploit the climate of predatory economic rationalism, and who brought blight to others and bling to themselves.
Although they must have been fed up looking at me in the apartment responding to yet another building failure that was disfiguring their lives, Fiachra still invited me to his home on a Saturday with my son who played with Fiachra’s own son while we drank coffee and chewed the fat. He seemed puzzled by the Northern conflict and wanted to understand the type of person who would get involved in political violence. I told him he could ask as many questions as he liked, an offer he took me up on. I explained my perspective to him and he was totally unafraid to state where he disagreed with it. Basically, I came away feeling that Fiachra was one of those people who could see no cause that would justify bringing harm to other human beings. He said we should get a drink sometime but I was moved off site before the chance came up.
Fiachra Daly was failed at every step of the way of the building process that spanned planning, construction, remedial works and fire safety, the latter two of which I was involved in. The strain ultimately proved too much and he ultimately took his own life, but not as if it was some casual choice. Despair rather than desire selected the path for him.
Those failings were bad enough and there was to be little in the way of contrition from the developer. Tom McFeely, somebody who knew what it was like to be on the receiving end of injustice, lacked the compassion to spare others a similar experience. There was absolutely no need for him to have insulted Fiachra Daly and the other victims of this Great Dublin Lock out: expelled from their homes, the residents were sneeringly told they were jumped up Hitlers for having the temerity to demand only what they paid for. When they marched on protest as families, parents were derided: ‘the children brought out on that protest were there for a day out, for a walk through the city centre. It was nothing else.'
Yet, they were protesting much the same as our own families had protested while we were in prison, being held in cells that did not leak and out of which we never had to be evacuated because of a fire risk.
Seemingly, the greatest cruelty was reserved for the end. In the wake of Fiachra Daly’s death his partner Stephanie Meehan was reported to have been subjected to an offensive tirade from Tom McFeely, so vicious that it was described as unprintable. Instead ‘she was given a transcript' of the abuse by a reporter who had spoken with McFeely in London.
There is simply nothing that can be said by way of mitigation for that. It was callous and gratuitous. Stephanie Meehan in one deft response showed the gulf between compassion and cruelty:
I don't wish him any ills. He has children himself. It would be a lot easier for us to move on if he could put his hands up and accept some responsibility.
Shortly before Fiachra Daly's untimely death my wife met Stephanie Meehan at a Book the Bankers Protest outside Dail Eireann and introduced herself. She was greeted as warmly as I had always been. When my wife told me some days later that Fiachra had died the jolt was all the more severe.
Fiachra was fortunate while alive to have a strong partner. Stephanie’s eulogy at his funeral mass was potent and left me wondering whether I would have the strength to do likewise were I faced with her grief. Since then she has been a tireless advocate for the residents of Priory Hall and has ultimately expedited a solution.
There was not much I managed to do for Fiachra Daly while he was alive, feeling ultimately that I was part of the process that let him down. It is fitting, therefore, that part of a day as special as Christmas is set aside in memory of a man who endured a lot of infliction in his search for justice. It might come as small consolation for those who loved him that Fiachra Daly, 'a constant presence at protests and vigils', did not die in vain. Stephanie Meehan made sure of that.