Bankruptcy latest twist in Mick Wallace’s rollercoaster ride

Maverick TD channelled public anger on austerity while leaving State €1.4m short on VAT

 Wexford Independent TD Mick Wallace: has worked effectively as a touchstone for disaffected citizens. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Wexford Independent TD Mick Wallace: has worked effectively as a touchstone for disaffected citizens. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

The adjudication of Mick Wallace as a bankrupt is only the latest twist in the Wexford builder and TD’s rollercoaster existence since the economic crash destroyed his business and helped launch his political career.

Wallace is the uber-politician of the downturn – professionally destroyed by the construction collapse, personally affronted by the bank bailout. A rebel at heart, he has channelled the zeitgeist of an angry nation since making a snap decision to run for the Dáil in early 2011.

Despite his meagre political experience and a professed lack of interest in traditional parish-pump activities, he has worked effectively as a touchstone for disaffected citizens, most notably by airing the claims of a series of whistleblowers about issues such as Garda malpractice and the purchase of Nama’s Northern Irish portfolio. He has done the State some service by bringing many of these issues to light.

He first emerged in public glare as a somewhat contradictory figure: the builder who espoused socialism; the businessman who lived up to his “play hard” motto at the World Cup, or on his Italian vineyard, as well as working hard as his building company expanded during the boom years.

The contradictions have continued to accumulate. He is the man of the people who left the taxpayer short €1.4 million when he underdeclared VAT and was fined €7,000 over delays in paying workers’ pension contributions.

Sympathy

Wallace was admirably frank in admitting to filling in false VAT forms. He promised to use half his TD’s salary to pay off previous debts. These actions have shored up his public standing, but could not forestall the inevitability of bankruptcy.

That fate has been a long time coming. “I’ve tried to build well – we were a very successful company for a long time,” he said in 2011, after ACC Bank appointed a receiver to his assets. “We weren’t bad, we weren’t doing crazy things.”

There are degrees of craziness, however. Wallace’s companies built good apartments, and their infill developments brought blighted inner city streets back to life. Yet they were built with the same “mad” money borrowed by other developers and they were hit just as badly when the bubble burst.

Wallace exudes passion in whatever he does, and nowhere is this more evident than in his involvement with Wexford Youths soccer team. Having founded the team, he managed it for three seasons. Last month marked a low in the 10-year history of the club, however, with the men’s team relegated from the League of Ireland Premier Division and the women’s team thumped in the FAI Cup final.

Now 61, he hails from Wellingtonbridge, where he grew up in a family of 12 children. He studied to become a teacher, but ended up working in construction, after a formative time spent travelling in Latin America. He has four children, two from a marriage and two from a later relationship. His family home, which may be threatened by the current bankruptcy proceedings, is in Clontarf.

Though never a big-time player, his company, MJ Wallace, grew consistently in the early years of the century. By 2005, it was making profits of €2.5 million and employing 44 staff.

Vineyard

The trouble started when the flow of money from the bank dried up as the economy nosedived. Wallace started using customers’ deposits to fund other work. He subsequently admitted making false declaration to the Revenue Commissions. Not surprisingly, Revenue investigated his companies when they found they were being underpaid and he was hit with a massive settlement.

Wallace’s ventilation of his Revenue issues prompted other creditors to move. Since then, his mini-empire has been slowly dismantled and yet his indebtedness has declined only slightly – to €30 million. Bankruptcy was the only option.

Ironically, he has the government of which he is so critical of to thank for the easing of the bankruptcy laws. The terms of bankruptcy have been reduced successively from 12 years to three to one. In addition, the old rule that would have required a TD to resign if declared bankrupt has been discarded.