Yet another deputy pours his heart out in a hushed Dáil chamber


DÁIL SKETCH:WE HAVE been here before. Chastened politician opens his heart and throws himself on the mercy of a decent and understanding public.

He also appeals to his colleagues, who may talk a good fight but recoil at the sight of blood. They can’t bear to witness the distress of one of their own, whatever the transgression might be.

Mick Wallace was always going to get a respectful and sympathetic hearing in the Dáil last evening – despite the unspoken misgivings of much of his audience.

The sense of awkwardness and unease in the Dáil chamber as he made his personal statement was overwhelming.

Deputies stared into the middle distance while he read his speech, not wishing to look directly at the man whose actions they had earlier condemned.

They looked embarrassed, receiving Wallace’s well-scripted explanation in deathly silence.

There were times when it was hard to listen to the flamboyant Wexford TD. He looked and sounded extremely emotional. There were times when it seemed like he might not be able to hold it all together, his voice quivering and cracking as he made his pitch.

Clare Daly sat on his left-hand side, Ming Flanagan to his right. Deputy Flanagan appeared close to tears during much of the 10 minutes, gently giving his friend a supportive pat on the arm when it seemed like the occasion might overwhelm him.

But we have been here before. Perhaps that might explain why the facial expression of some of the more experienced deputies was not so much solemn as stoney- faced. These are difficult events to watch, yesterday’s was no different. And yet, we also remembered Bertie Ahern’s Bryan Dobson interview and the tearful catch in his throat as he beguiled the nation with his sob story.

There have been many instances of deputies pouring out their hearts to their fellow TDs in a hushed Dáil chamber. It has rarely done them much good in the long run, particularly if they were selective on detail.

Wallace’s statement was very well written and argued. It sounded honest and courageous and provided food for thought.

He wrapped everything up in a sincere apology for letting people down. “I have done many things in my life that I should not have done and now I have disappointed many people who believed in me.”

Wallace detailed how he went from being a successful businessman, who met all his tax obligations, to a failed developer owing millions to the banks and revenue.

Who wouldn’t identify with his problems? He said he was grateful for the support he received from “the small- and medium-sized business community”. They “know how difficult things can be and what the pressures of business can be like”. But are they withholding VAT that they collected from their customers to pass on to the Government?

There was one bright spot in his sad speech and it gladdened the Government’s heart. “Have I considered resigning and running in a byelection?” he asked. (This was the point that most interested his audience. The TDs sat up in their seats.) “Have I considered resigning and walking away from politics for good? I certainly have – but I was never very good at quitting.”

The Coalition heaved a sigh of relief. They can’t be doing with a byelection at the moment, with public opinion swinging wildly against them.

Wallace was at pains to emphasise the difference between his personal financial situation and his company’s obligations. MJ Wallace Ltd carries the can from under-declaring its VAT liability.

However – and this was the grand gesture – Mick Wallace private citizen was going to try to repair some of what MJ owes the taxman. He declared he would now be paying half his Dáil salary to Revenue.

What a turnaround in seven days. This time last week, Wallace was still all set to gad off to Poland to watch the soccer, content in the knowledge that he had come clean about his tax problems a week before his name was going to be published on the defaulters list.

As soon as he pledged to start chipping away at the VAT bill, the calculators came out on the press gallery. If Mick keeps up the payments, and the good people of Wexford keep sending him back to the Dáil, he’ll have it cleared in about 80 years.

It’s ironic, but Wallace will be paying back the taxpayer with their own money, in order to make amends for taking their cash in the first place.

“I am just another human being who is very far from being perfect and will remain so,” he said, concluding his riveting address.

There was silence when he finished. Then Fine Gael’s Peter Mathews clapped, followed by his colleague, Frank Feighan. Ming Flanagan followed suit, but it was a very feeble response.

Wallace left Leinster House soon afterwards and reportedly watched the Ireland game in a nearby pub.

That won’t have improved his spirits.