Welcome for Mick Wallace undimmed despite his unorthodox approach

Independent TD arrives at doors empty-handed in traditional sense of Irish politics

Mick Wallace on the canvass at Wolfe Tone Villas in Wexford.

Mick Wallace on the canvass at Wolfe Tone Villas in Wexford.

 

At last, a politician who has kept his promises.

“I said I wouldn’t do parish pump and I didn’t,” says Mick Wallace, lightly dressed in his trademark pink polo top against the cold late winter sun.

“I’ve held no clinics. Some of my competitors boast about going to 10 funerals a week. I feel embarrassed going to a funeral unless it’s someone I knew very well.”

The needs are great in the modest estates fringing Wexford town – health, mental health and housing come up repeatedly on the doorsteps – but Wallace arrives empty-handed in the traditional sense of Irish politics. “It’s wrong for a politician to interfere with a process,” he believes. “If I get someone bumped up the hospital waiting list, someone else loses out.”

Despite this unorthodox approach, his welcome appears undimmed, five years after he topped the poll in 2011 with over 13,000 first-preference votes. “You rattled the cages when others were afraid to,” says James Cullen, hailing the candidate from the front of his house in Wolfe Tone Villas. “Backbenchers only say what they’re allowed to say. That’s the differ with Mick.”

Wexford has long been Brendan Howlin’s traditional stronghold but supporters of the Labour Minister in its working class redoubts are as rare as hen’s teeth today.

Most observers see Wallace as a shoo-in for a seat, although he worries about votes seeping out to the many other Independents standing this time. “I’m getting a powerful response on the doors but don’t know whether that will translate into votes.”

His well-known passion for soccer does him no harm. A woman bearing a Wexford Youths scarf approaches looking for a selfie with its founder. The women’s team are Irish champions while the men have just been promoted to the top flight of the Airtricity League, so there’s plenty of banter about upcoming matches.

Good reaction

At times, he comes over as the Irish Noam Chomsky, railing about the neoliberal domination of politics; on other occasions, he’s the corner boy made good. “I’m not the worst c**t up there,” he tells one man. “You’re not lying there,” comes the reply.

“One of the reasons I get such a good reaction on the doorsteps is that I call it as it is, whether it’s in my interest or not.” He says he gets no votes “down here” for being pro-choice or supporting the legalisation of cannabis. Sure enough, shortly after, a well-disposed voter turns when she hears his view on abortion and quickly closes her door in disappointment.

For such an iconoclast, Wallace is brilliantly versed in classic capitalist techniques such as marketing. His posters are moody compositions of blonde and pink that make you wonder what Kurt Cobain would look like if he had lived.

The past five years have been a rollercoaster, he acknowledges. The high points are summarised in one of his posters carrying the slogan: “Penalty points, Siteserv, Shannon, Nama – Let’s Have the Truth”. Wallace, along with his friend Clare Daly, have found relevance in the Dáil by acting as a lightning rod for whistleblowers. He says he receives over 200 emails a day, many of them claiming to lift the lid on wrongdoing.

Tax settlement

Fine GaelMary Mitchell O’Connor

It’s hardly surprising that a tone of self-pity rises up: “All my competitors are back building. I’m still struggling with four banks and Cerberus.

“I’m going to lose my home. I’m not building. If I hadn’t gone into politics I’d be in a different place.”