Dennis Ryan interview
This interview by Ted Vibert was first published in Jersey Topic magazine in 1966.
You know when you have been talking at length with him that he belongs to a progressive school. He is conscious of the past, but doesn't worship it. If he thinks an old established system is inefficient he has no qualms about burying it, once he has found a better one to replace it. Equally so he will not destroy something that is efficient because it is old.
He has the same practical attitude towards the honorary system in Jersey. Because he belongs to it does not mean that he blindly supports it.
- "If I found that public safety was being threatened, or there were glaring inefficiencies in police work because of the honorary system, I would be the first to call for its abolition".
- "I have said many times publicly that provided the honorary police realise their limitations, they can continue to serve Jersey well. It is when they try and go outside of their field that trouble starts".
He is a strong supporter of the system on social grounds.
- "The system does encourage people to play an active part in the community. To lose this would be a great pity".
Dennis Ryan is a businessman of no mean ability. As chairman of a building business, the largest garage network in the Channel Islands and a hotel group, he needs to organise himself properly to carry out these duties. Add to this his work as Constable of St Helier and a member of the States and you have a picture of a man who must use every minute of the day.
Ideas flow from him like a gushing tap. Always he is probing, twisting, debating — you can see his mind working when you talk to him. He admits to having a tape recorder in his car so that when he thinks of something as he is driving, the idea is not lost in a mass of everyday detail but recorded.
He keeps a notebook by his bed for the same reason. He is a man who requires very little sleep and who often starts work at 4 am.
- "I have never been a night worker. But after a few hours sleep I find I can start work again and work best early in the morning".
He makes all-important policy decisions in the early hours. I asked him if all this work was really necessary. Did he think differently now about work after his recent thrombosis, which laid him up for six weeks?
- "Yes, that did shake me up. I had time to stop and think about things and I now take things a lot easier."
His illness also made him very aware of the number of friends he has that he didn't know about. His admittance to hospital caused great concern among his parishioners and he was very touched by the numbers of get-well messages he received. He was also amused by a number of people who insisted that he took things easier and then worked themselves up into a fine lather in front of him about the parking problem.
What did he think was the biggest problem facing Jersey? His reply came quick and to the point:
- "Undeniably overpopulation. I think the time has come for us to tackle this problem seriously. The population is rising faster than any of us realise I would like to see a commission appointed to investigate the control of immigration into Jersey. And it should be done as quickly as possible."
When he took over as Constable of St Helier four years ago the image of the office had slipped to a very low level. Evidence of the drastic shake-up that was to follow has the Ryan stamp all over it. The office of Constable was given a new dignity. The Town Hall staff knew that here was someone who knew about business methods and was going to put them into practice. Was it difficult doing this?
- "Not really. My biggest problem was to modernise the organisation and in this the Town Clerk's great experience has been the vital factor. The staff had no plan to work to. They were thinking along outdated lines and I wanted them not only to be up-to-date in their way of thinking but to be planning for the future, for it is the future we are concerned with".
He will perhaps be best remembered for his humanitarian attempts to lighten the burden of people in distress and for the aged. He was prominent in scrapping the term ‘Poor Law’ and substituting ‘Public Assistance’. St Helier House, that marvellous old people's institution, was his brainchild. Did this represent his political leanings?
- "Undoubtedly. I am left of centre and this can be attributed to my own home background".
Family life means a great deal to him. He has six children, three by his first marriage, which was dissolved. He married his second wife, Maisie, in 1954. She is a clever and attractive woman whom he describes as "my greatest asset". He loves having the children around him and last summer took two of the boys on a family party camping in France.
St Helier is lucky to have this fireball as a Constable. His original approach to business and organisation is St Helier's gain. His originality can also be painful. He went to work on how to solve the problem of cars speeding down the long drive to his lovely home at St John, which is a great danger to the children.
He put notices up, but somehow no one took any notice. So he built a hump across the drive at the entrance to his courtyard. Speeding guests now knock at his door rubbing their heads as they bump the ceiling of their cars.
- ”It stops them speeding", he says with a smile.