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Taking the Mick in pink jersey

THE woman in the supermarket was contentedly browsing the cabbages when a shaggy, peroxide-blonde head materialised right beside her. "Are you going to vote for me?" demanded the candidate with absolutely no ceremony.

She hopped a foot in fright, then recognised the figure at her elbow.

"Ah, it's you, Mick," she smiled, and shook his hand. "You'll be getting my number one," she told him.

It's precisely one week since Mick Wallace put the heart crossways on Vincent Browne by almost casually announcing his candidature for the general election live on the show, and the Independent is already even money in the bookies to snatch a seat in the five-seater dogfight of Wexford.

The words 'colourful' and 'character' are all too often undeservedly bestowed on individuals who don't swim in the political mainstream but in Wallace's case it's an entirely appropriate description, literally and metaphorically.

On a damp, grey afternoon on Gorey's main street he was as unlikely a sight as a lighthouse in a bog -- with his curly white-blond locks, luminous pink Wexford Youth football-shirt and unconventional style of canvassing. He'd simply ask passers-by, "Are you going to vote for me?"

And time after time, the answer was an unqualified 'yes'. In Supervalu, one woman told him: "I'm not voting for anyone else. I've a young lad who plays soccer," she told the man who set up the Wexford Youths football team.

Wallace -- builder, restaurateur, football fanatic, self-confessed leftie, political activist and now candidate for the 31st Dail -- is still getting used to the idea of running for election.

He only decided to throw his hat in the ring as he drove out to TV3 to take part on the Vincent Browne show.

"I'd been thinking about it for months, but just made up my mind then," he explained.

A week on and he has posters, leaflets, pink T-shirts for his canvassers and a team of pals out on the trail with him.

Many of the people who stopped to talk to him had one question: "What can you do for me?"

Mick just shook his head. "I can't promise you anything," he told them.

Another man asked him, "What would you do about Section 481?" he asked, referring to the tax incentives for the film industry. "Tell me what it is," replied Mick. Another shopper looked over his leaflet. "I don't know anything about you," she said to him. Mick pointed to himself. "Tell me, do I look honest?" he demanded.

What sort of politician is this? He promises nothing, and is disconcertingly honest to potential voters and upfront about the stuff he doesn't know about.

A clue to why people were crossing the street to shake his hand or have their photo taken with him became clearer as he talked to a woman who had pledged him a vote.

"Society is poorly organised," he told one woman. "The Government has seen it that the interests of ordinary people come second to big business, and that's not right".

And this is why Mick is one of a staggering 170 Independent candidates who are running for election, out of a desire to 'do something', to wrestle back politics from the cabals and golden circles and vested interests and cosy cartels. And voters are responding to them.

"We were around the housing estates in New Ross and other towns and it was frightening. People have so many problems," he explained.

Mick admitted he didn't make the decision to run lightly. "I was of the opinion that there was no changing, it'd be like trying to keep the tide out with a pitchfork, but if there are enough people who think that change can happen, and if enough Independents who actually care about society get into the Dail, we can start the process of effecting change," he said.

Independents could yet play a pivotal role in the formation of the next government, and the somewhat unlikely but likable pink-shirted Mick could well be among them.

If he is, it'll be his first time to set foot in Leinster House.

"But I did pave the entrance to the Kildare Street gate," he said. "Have a look at it next time, it's good work."

Irish Independent