Be Bold. Two words plastered across a black and white image of Mick Wallace on a few sparsely dispersed billboards certainly made for a bold statement. But what else would you have expected from the bushy-haired Wexford football coach, developer, campaigner, TD, and general nuisance to the established political parties and Government?
Indeed, arriving into the Ireland South count centre earlier this week, Wallace vowed to “remain a thorn in the side” of the Irish Government from Brussels. Wallace, the ultimate non-politician, has now been elected at national level and is on track to gain a seat in the European Parliament.
While he took out around 12 billboard ads in strategically placed areas, including close to Cork’s Kent Station, the Wallace campaign decided against postering.
“He had zero posters, he decided that there is no point complaining about the environment and action on climate change and then go and put up 10,000 posters around the country,” said Chris Oonan, his parliamentary assistant and election agent.
Instead, social media played a big part in the campaign. Mr Wallace has around 30,000 followers on Facebook and more than 31,000 on Twitter. To put that in context the official Fine Gael party Twitter account has 35,000 followers.
As a result, his online posts had a large reach and this was accompanied by a video in which Wallace raised everything from Garda reform, to Nama, the housing crisis, the Children’s Hospital and climate issues all through the clever use of snippets from his impassioned Dáil contributions.
While other political parties and, indeed, candidates descended on areas with large campaign teams to leaflet drop and canvass, it was a lone Wallace and his right-hand-man Seanie O’Shea who traversed the massive constituency. The Independents4Change candidate clocked up around 7,000 miles during his short campaign.
He and Dáil colleague Clare Daly declared just a month before the vote, but Wallace made the most of the short time he had to gather votes travelling from Kerry to Clare to Wicklow with a few trips back up to the Dáil in between. While the pulling potential of the rebel candidate was unquantifiable during the campaign, when the ballots began to tumble out of boxes in the Nemo Rangers count centre, it became clear the Wallace had done significantly better than even the exit polls had predicted.
As the counts continued and people were eliminated, Wallace was mopping up considerable numbers of transfers. After the first count, there were 2,342 votes between Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher, who was in second position, and Wallace in third. However, after eight counts that gap had reduced to 1,070 votes.
And by the 12th count on Tuesday night, the Wexford TD had jumped into second place with 87,569 votes, while Mr Kelleher was on 87,036. The real loss from Wallace’s gain undoubtedly came for Sinn Féin’s Liadh Ní Riada, who saw many of her expected transfers taken by the underdog.
But it would be unfair on Wallace to explain away his rise as simply a fall in Sinn Féin support. He took many transfers from traditional parties when Labour’s Sheila Nunan and Andrew Doyle of Fine Gael went out.
Wallace, in his trademark pink t-shirt, remained confident from early on in the marathon count and joked on Monday that his passport was in order. Will things change now that the unconventional political joins the political machine that is the European Parliament?
His answer to journalists, in his trademark casual style, said a lot: “I thought I was spruced up today, I am spruced up every day, I mean I generally change my clothes every day and I generally wash.
“Was it Brendan Behan who said: ‘I take a bath every year whether I’m dirty or not’? I have a shower every day whether I’m dirty or not.”
Wallace is someone who shakes things up. He is not concerned with sprucing himself up.