Loftus, Sean Daniel ('Dublin Bay') (1927–2010), environmentalist and political activist, was born in Dublin on 26 November 1927, eldest of seven children (four sons and three daughters) of J. J. Loftus, medical doctor, and his wife Margaret, former captain of the Irish hockey team. The family had strong connections to the Ballina/Attymass area of Co. Mayo. Loftus attended Coláiste Mhuire (Parnell Square) and the Catholic University School before two years as a medical student in UCD. Finding himself unsuited for a medical career, he went to England in 1946 and worked on London building sites. After eighteen months he returned to Ireland to be treated for tuberculosis, then went to Essex where he helped to build a nuclear power station in Bradwell, coming back to Dublin in 1952.
Deciding on a political career, Loftus studied law at King's Inns, and was called to the bar in 1958. He associated with the right-wing group National Action, which advocated non-party vocational government. In 1958–61 he worked in the US as a travelling lecturer, studying the Irish diaspora and American publicity techniques. He developed an interest in the environmental movement after attending an agricultural show where he encountered carrots grown in a test tube. He met and admired the Chilean Christian Democrat politician and theorist Eduardo Frei Montalva (1911–82; president of Chile, 1964–70).
Loftus married (c.1962) Una Fitzsimons (Nic Shiomoin; d. 2014), teacher and Irish-language activist; they had one son and two daughters. The family lived in Dublin's Liberties (1962–8) before moving to Seafield Road in Clontarf, and were close and affectionate, despite Sean's periodic fits of obsession with his latest cause. Una's organisational abilities underpinned Sean's political activities; he thanked her in his maiden dáil speech (1981), amusing chauvinistic politicians and journalists.
After practising as a barrister (1961–6), Loftus became a lecturer in planning law at the College of Technology, Bolton Street (1966–91). Thereafter he rarely appeared at the bar except to represent himself or environmental groups. He was an active member of the Teachers' Union of Ireland. During the 1960s Loftus joined protests against demolition of Georgian houses on Hume Street and redevelopment in the Liberties.
In May 1961, just before returning to Ireland, Loftus founded the Christian Democrat Party of Ireland (CDP), which advocated implementation of the report of the 1943 committee on vocational organisation, a popular initiative referendum, dáil representation for emigrants, and the creation of an ombudsman. The CDP was principally a support group for Loftus's dáil candidacies. In 1965 it was refused inclusion on the register of political parties because of its small membership and insufficient organisation. Loftus contested the Dublin North East dáil constituency in 1961, 1963 (by-election), 1965 and 1969. Although he polled over 1,000 votes in each of his first three contests, his vote noticeably declined to 364 (1%) in 1969; in 1973 he received 578 first preferences (1.7%) in Dublin North Central.
Before the 1973 general election, Loftus changed his name by deed poll to Sean D. Christian Democrat Dublin Bay Loftus, thus evading official refusal to list his party on ballot papers. He removed 'Christian Democrat' before contesting the 1974 Dublin City Council elections, saying party politics should be excluded from local government. The political and constitutional preoccupations of his Christian Democrat era recurred throughout his later career, and he was active on the conservative side in the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s. However, his career in local politics was dominated by the environmental campaigns for which he is chiefly remembered.
In 1978 Loftus added 'Rockall' to his name to highlight his advocacy of an Irish claim to the North Atlantic islet of Rockall (he founded Ireland's Rockall Trust in 1974). After being elected alderman of Dublin Corporation in 1979 he added 'Alderman', thus gaining a higher place on the ballot paper. None of these changes, however, achieved the same prominence as 'Dublin Bay', which highlighted his opposition to various proposals to redevelop the bay area, particularly a 1972 proposal by Dutch consultants to fill in large areas of the bay, and a request (1972–6) by a shell company called Aquarius Securities to build an oil refinery next to the Poolbeg power station. (Before cheap air travel, the beaches of Dublin Bay were the principal recreational amenity for a large proportion of the city's population; the Loftuses liked to stroll on the North Bull island with their children.)
Loftus's anti-refinery campaign led to his election to Dublin Corporation in 1974 as part of a loose alliance of independents, the Community Government Association. He was returned for Clontarf at every local election until his retirement in 1999, winning one of the highest individual votes in the country in both 1979 and 1991. This electoral record was all the more impressive because his views on constituency work were eccentric by Irish standards. Loftus was also willing to support unpopular proposals which he saw as being in the public interest; he endorsed a proposal by Michael Lucey (qv) of Irish Life to build a gigantic office block next to Tara Street train station because he believed such developments facilitated rail commuters and eased pressure on roads.
Loftus represented Dublin Corporation on the Dublin Port and Docks Board (1974–85), waging unsuccessful campaigns to have the board's committee meetings thrown open to the public and to gain access to board documents concerning the refinery proposal. His campaign against the refinery was supported by numerous community groups and activists, but opposed by Official Sinn Féin (OSF), who saw an indigenously controlled refinery as vital for Irish industrialisation. Two television programmes by the RTÉ Seven days team (1975) were widely accused of pro-refinery bias, caricaturing Loftus, and being unduly influenced by OSF members; Loftus successfully demanded a right of reply. OSF members repeatedly accused him of representing well-heeled suburbanites at the expense of unemployed inner-city workers; Loftus replied that he was defending amenities for ordinary people. The refinery was rejected after a 1976 public inquiry that Loftus presented with a bucketful of sewage from the bay as evidence of its polluted state.
In the 1977 general election Loftus came close to election in the three-seat Dublin Clontarf constituency, receiving 3,003 first preferences (9.7%). The former Dublin Opinion editor Charles E. Kelly (qv) drew a cartoon showing Loftus as a watchdog, adopted as his symbol in subsequent elections. Loftus's campaign tactics included verbose newspaper advertisements setting out his causes, and appeals to supporters to forward chain letters to other voters and to organise impromptu collections. (Loftus lived modestly – he could not afford a car – and his campaigns involved financial sacrifice.)
His profile was further raised by the campaign to prevent construction of civic offices on a Wood Quay site containing the remains of the mediaeval Dublin viking settlement. Loftus argued that the civic offices should be located next to Connolly rail station. One of his more visionary campaigns was for the extensive land banks around Irish railway stations to be developed, to promote rail commuting and subsidise what he regarded as excessive fares (he regularly refused to pay increased bus fares, giving the conductor his name and address so a bill could be sent to him). He first proposed such developments in the early 1970s; they were carried out from the late 1980s after they had proved successful in Britain. Other Loftus campaigns as a corporation member included successful opposition to a proposal to excavate large caverns under Dublin Bay for storing liquid petroleum gas (1982–3) and to an eastern bypass motorway running along the southern bay coastline.
In the 1981 general election, despite the division of his Clontarf stronghold between two new constituencies and a relatively low first preference vote of 2,395 (7.4%), Loftus won the last seat in the four-seat Dublin North East constituency. With independent and small party TDs holding the balance of power, he was discussed as a possible ceann comhairle (taken by Dr John O'Connell (1930–2013)). Loftus's parliamentary performance was unimpressive; his speeches were rambling and unfocused, and he repeatedly and unrealistically called for a national government to address Ireland's economic problems. (This reflected longstanding views: during the 1961–5 dáil he denounced independent TD Frank Sherwin (qv) for sustaining a minority government.) He might have been happier with a Fianna Fáil government, given his nationalist views on Northern Ireland – he supported the H-block campaign for political status for IRA prisoners – and his denunciation of the 'constitutional crusade' of Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald (qv) as an attempt 'to deChristianise the people's constitution'.
On 27 January 1982 the coalition government fell after Loftus and Jim Kemmy (qv) voted against its budget. Fine Gaelers denounced this as irresponsible; Loftus consistently denied claims by FitzGerald that he had not made his intentions clear, claiming he would have voted for the government if it had withdrawn the offending proposals as it did during the subsequent election campaign. In the ensuing general election Loftus's decision to contest Dublin North Central as well as Dublin North East was a virtual admission of defeat; he polled 1,801 votes (4.4%) in North Central and 1,814 votes (5.7%) in North East. Although he contested North East in November 1982 and North Central in 1987, 1989, 1992 (3,551 votes; 7.7%) and 1997 (2,485; 5.8%), he was never again elected a TD. He polled respectably in the Dublin constituency in the European elections of 1979 (21,769; 7.4%) and 1984 (17,385; 6.2%). Transfer patterns show his votes came from across the political spectrum.
Loftus was lord mayor of Dublin in 1995–6. After retiring from Dublin Corporation in 1999, he grew flowers, remained active in local community groups, and co-founded Dublin Bay Watch (1999), which successfully opposed proposals by Dublin Port Company to reclaim fifty-two acres of Dublin Bay. Informed of the final rejection of this proposal while recuperating from brain surgery shortly before his death, he died in the Mater Hospital, Dublin, on 10 July 2010. At his funeral he was hailed as 'guardian of the shore', and was buried in his mayoral robes.
Loftus was seen by some observers as 'a nut', but by others as 'saintly' with a quality of 'holy obsession'. His career marks a transition of the 'community' envisaged in Irish protest politics from catholic vocationalism to a more secular vision of 'quality of life'. An inability to prioritise among his bright ideas should not disguise the fact that many of his proposals were eventually implemented, while others, such as the initiative referendum and granting postal votes to emigrants, still had prominent advocates in 2016. His tendency to paranoia and fantasy should not be overlooked, but his obsessiveness and publicity-seeking may actually have been assets in confronting the long memory of a tenacious bureaucracy, and his honesty stands in sharp contrast to later revelations about misuse of the planning system.