Independent Wallace hoping blue stronghold can think pink

 

ON THE CANVASS:Energy takes place of policy talk and promises as paint-spattered candidate stops traffic

HE DOESN’T talk about policies and makes no promises but Mick Wallace has an awful lot of goodwill on the streets of Gorey.

“Who’d vote for that yokel,” asks the manager of the local cafe, pointing a set of cutlery in the direction of the long-haired, pink-jerseyed, paint-spattered candidate approaching her with a toothy grin.

There’s also serious brand recognition for the man from Wellingtonbridge, further to the south of Co Wexford. “I seen him on the telly,” a woman says as a leaflet is popped in her hand. “Yeah, that’s the soccer man,” her husband rejoins, in a reference to Wallace’s role in setting up the Wexford Youths football team.

Just a week after he announced he was standing for election as an Independent, Wallace has taken to the business of canvassing like an old hand. He’s out there hugging the women window-shopping on Gorey’s main street, he’s slapping the lads on the corner on the back, he’s even stopping the traffic and opening car doors in search of face time with the voters.

What he gets back are frequent shows of support mixed with a fair amount of reserve in this traditionally strong Fine Gael town. It’s enough to be getting on with for a former property developer and wine-bar owner on his first outing in politics.

Property developer? Funny that, but no one asks about the fact that he belongs to the class of person who got the country into the mess it’s in, and there’s no space on his leaflet for mention of his past roles. But then Wallace never was a typical property developer; from his appearance, to his views on Palestine, or to his frankness about the property madness that created his wealth and then took it away.

“Owing money to the banks, that doesn’t make me a criminal,” Wallace says. For 25 years his business made a profit and even when it stopped doing so, he didn’t walk away, like others. He says he’ll probably lose all his assets, but doesn’t expect to be made a bankrupt (which would disqualify him from membership of the Dáil).

“I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t care,” Wallace tells one man. “I could be out in Italy drinking wine.” With his week-old stubble and a purple earring peeping out from behind his blond locks, Mick Wallace would give the dress committee in Leinster House something to think about. “The pink and the blond is lovely,” a woman giggles, while another elderly lady just creases in laughter when confronted by the pink jersey.

There’s a sign on the door of Sprint Design that says “strictly no canvassing; mind made up already” but Wallace barges in anyway. The owner, Derek Webb, gets a leaflet thrust in his hand and a lusty embrace before he can say, “We’re all Blueshirts here.”

“I’ll give you support, even though you’re from a Fianna Fáil family,” he offers. “I’d have more faith in a guy who talks openly rather than giving you the spin.” Business is so bad, he tells Wallace, that the item in greatest demand at the moment is the no canvassing sign.

Even from the less enthusiastic, there are positive words. “I know you have a good track record in business,” one woman ventures, “but there are too many Independents”.

Alice O’Riordan, back in Gorey to mind her 90-year-old mother, says she’s voting for Wallace because the party whip system was “ridiculous” and politicians had become insulated from the realities of life for ordinary people. An elderly woman says she’s “anti-voting” this time: “I don’t think it would matter to the country if the pope came in.”

His lack of focus frustrates some people. “There’s no point in me voting for you if you don’t tell me what you stand for,” says Emma Johnston, after some idle banter.

“I’m going to change things, be honest and fight for equality,” he replies: “Everything is possible but it’s going to take time”.

Two men are looking for council flats; a woman from Dublin is against the sell-off of Coillte. Wallace says he will seek influence by banding together with other like-minded Independents if elected. “I don’t sense Fine Gael’s policies are any different from Fianna Fáil’s,” he tells a woman.

For someone who has debts of more than €40 million, it’s to be expected that he has views on the banks and the IMF-EU bailout. “These loans have to be challenged,” he tells one woman. “It’s outrageous that the ECB has penalised everyone in Ireland so that our banks won’t fail and the European banks are repaid.”

The woman says her husband is self-employed but cannot get credit and will be out of business by the summer. “No one gives a toss,” she says.

Wallace nods in agreement. “But what can you do?” the woman wants to know.

“There has to be a whole new mindset,” he responds.

He continues with a poke at “the Dublin government” and rails against a lack of local consultation, but the woman’s scepticism is growing. Won’t he end up like those other Independents looking for advantage when they hold the balance of power?

“If you think I will behave like Jackie Healy-Rae or Michael Lowry then you shouldn’t vote for me,” Wallace replies, to her apparent satisfaction.

Wallace says he’s going to run the cheapest campaign in Ireland and has printed only 300 posters so far. More than 100 people turned up to offer their help at a meeting last week, and he says he didn’t know three-quarters of them. He’s now at evens with the bookies but it’s still early days yet.