The colourful, unconventional Wexford TD, a former construction firm owner, tellshe wants to become an MEP so that he can stand up for the less-well-off.
MICK Wallace’s office is stacked full of papers and files, overseen by a large print, on one wall of his office, of Cuba’s revolutionary Che Guevara. After eight years as a rebel of a different sort in Leinster House, the Wexford TD has now set his sights on the European Parliament.
A passionate speaker, a champion of whistleblowers, and a thorn in the side for banking and the National Management Asset Agency (Nama), Mr Wallace, a former construction firm owner, faces a challenge to be an MEP in a crowded constituency with 22 other contenders, many of whom are financed by parties and have support in wider parts of Ireland South.
Mr Wallace is still investigating Nama after setting up a whistleblower website.
This, and other justice issues, keep files mounting up in his office.
He and fellow Independents4Change TD Clare Daly were toying with the idea of running for Europe up until the last moment before las Monday’s deadline.
On the Saturday night before, he watched Wexford FC — a football club he founded — play in Limerick and, the next morning, drove to Cork to stay with his brother. He and other Independents, including Ms Daly, Maureen O’Sullivan, Catherine Connolly, and Thomas Pringle, then travelled to Cape Clear, West Cork, where the final decision was made. Ms Daly then returned to Dublin to register there before the deadline, while Mr Wallace registered in Cork, for Ireland South.
“It’s a tough gig,” he says. “Probably would have been easier for me in Dublin, but Clare Daly is running in Dublin. No point in two of us running there. The two of us were in two minds.”
So, why Europe?
“People have said: ‘You think you won’t get elected in Wexford next time, if you stood.’ That has zero to do with it. If I stood in Wexford the next time, it wouldn’t be easy keeping me out of the fifth seat in Wexford, even though I don’t do the parish pump politics or clinics or don’t go to funerals.
It’s not rocket science. A certain amount of people will vote for me and I’m transfer-friendly still. I get transfers from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and other Independents.
But there are more fundamental reasons he wants to be an MEP.
“So much of the legislation that we have put through the justice committee in the last three years has come from Europe,” says Mr Wallace. “It comes from Europe first; we are rubber-stamping it. We try and bring in amendments; we get the odd one in. But it is all starting in Europe.”
More than half of legislation from the Government has been justice-related in recent years, Mr Wallace says, and he complains that there is insufficient coverage by the media of legislation. Nonetheless, he says, he and Daly don’t care much for media attention.
“People can judge for themselves. I like to think I have had some impact [in my work]. But that is for the people to judge,” Mr Wallace says.
His CV speaks for itself. The outspoken TD, renowned for his pink T-shirts and colourful use of language in the chamber, has used the Dáil to raise claims around garda malpractice and allegations around Nama. He queried if the presence of military aircraft at Shannon airport is in violation of Irish neutrality.
Mr Wallace, in a David and Goliath scenario, also went up against US vulture fund Cerberus in a fight to keep his debt-ridden construction firm, but lost. Cerberus had him declared bankrupt over a €2m debt.
In the same vein, Mr Wallace plans to take on the establishment in Strasbourg if elected as an MEP. He pledges to represent ordinary people, small farmers and fishermen, and the less-well-off, if elected.
“I am pro-European, but I have a problem with how the EU works,” he says. “I see our government hiding behind a lot of the things that come from Europe. And Europe is like a neo-liberal club, at the moment. It is very much geared towards facilitating the interests of large corporations and big business. That’s a fact.
“Thirty-percent of the funding from the EU still goes to agriculture. And I would say that the EU takes care of 10% of the people who are involved in agriculture. There’s the 90% who find it difficult.
It suits the big boys, it suits the dairy industry, it suits beef, and it only suits the big beef. It doesn’t suit the suckler farmer. Your average Irish farmer with less than 100 acres is dependent on a bit of suckling farming, a bit of grain, and a bit of this and that, and a bit of sheep.
Europe is not much of a benefit to him. If you had a big dairy farm, Europe is a huge benefit to you. If you are a small dairy farmer, it is of less benefit. The benefits are going to the big boys.
Mr Wallace and Agriculture Minister Michael Creed have fought in the Dáil for years over beef farming, with the latter arguing that, overall, on a global scale, Irish agriculture is “carbon-efficient”.
Mr Wallace sees it differently.
“I find that government policy and IFA policy are in tune with EU policy,” he says. “They take best care of those who least need their care. And they don’t take near enough care of those who need their help.”
Equally, he claims the smaller Irish fisherman has been unfairly treated by EU policy.
“We all know that fishing got a raw deal a long long time ago and it still does,” he says. “I know lots of fellas in Wexford, inshore ones. It is a tough gig. Whereas, if you are a factory boat from France or Spain, you can hoover up the ocean. They take the vast majority of our fish, the French and Spanish boats do. The local guy is being squeezed out.”
For Mr Wallace, a seat in Europe would enable him to campaign for what he says are the less well-off.
He refers to disillusioned voters, including those who backed Brexit.
“The majority of people in Ireland just work to make ends meet,” he says. “I would say 50% of people in Ireland struggle to make ends meet. And I’m not so sure that Europe does much for them. There’s not a lot here for them. Why do you think Brexit arrived; why did the Brits go for Brexit? I don’t accept this migration thing, the argument. The reason I think 50% of people voted in Britain for Brexit was not because they were madly interested in politics, but they felt that politics didn’t represent them.”
Mr Wallace says voters said ‘fuck you’ to established parties, feeling that London didn’t represent them.
“I don’t agree with Brexit,” he says. “I think we are all better-off working together. But I want a Europe that works for everybody and not just the better-off. And, at the moment, I think that the European Union is a neo-liberal club and doesn’t represent the majority of the people. And I want to change that, rather than reject it.”