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Cut his hair and put him in a suit. Now do you forgive him?

WHEN Mick Wallace was elected to the Dail last year, much of his appeal stemmed from the fact that he represented a dramatic break from what many saw as the cute-hoor antics of Fianna Fail.

Given how he had made a fortune as a property developer in the boom, albeit one who never ventured into the party's infamous Galway tent, it was a pretty impressive achievement.

With his trademark pink shirt, faded jeans, unruly mane of hair and fiercely independent political spirit, Wallace was different to the rest of our political class.

With the revelation last week, however, that his company had made a €2.1m settlement with the Revenue Commissioners, the admiration he had won for being a maverick was lost overnight.

Having already poured his heart out in a mea maxima culpa interview last October on RTE Radio 1's Drivetime programme after the ACC Bank secured a €19m judgement against him in the High Court, there was more than a touch of the delusional about Wallace's decision to seek public sympathy this time round.

For whatever difficulties he might have in repaying his banks, his decision to under-declare his company's VAT liability in 2008 robbed the Irish State of significant monies to which it was entitled.

Indeed, one doesn't have to think too long or too hard to imagine the reaction to any of Ireland's better-known developers were it to emerge that they had tried to screw the taxpayer in the same way.

Cut his hair and put him in a three-piece suit, and Mick Wallace isn't that dissimilar to the sort of greedy speculator he and his colleagues in the Dail's technical group customarily rail against.

At the height of the boom in 2007, he was a director of more than a dozen companies that were worth €70m. His construction company, MJ Wallace -- with the company maxim "Work Hard -- Play Hard" -- was sitting on profits of more than €4.1m, while properties on the firm's books were valued at some €23.5m. Wallace, meanwhile, was paid a six-figure salary.

Yet even as the storm clouds gathered in 2008, the hirsute maverick continued to draw down a hefty wage from the company, best known for the development of the Italian Quarter in Dublin's city centre. Accounts for that year show how he and his son, Sasha, received payments of €289,000.

Interestingly, it was in 2008 that Wallace made the decision to under-declare his company's VAT liability.

Having reached a settlement for €2.1m with Revenue, Wallace has already admitted his company probably won't be able to pay, as it simply doesn't have the money.

Unsurprisingly, it's the same story when it comes to the €40m he owes ACC Bank, Ulster Bank, AIB and Bank of Scotland (Ireland) collectively.

Efforts by those lenders to recover the money they lent him through the sale of his assets have been unsuccessful to date, thanks to the dire state of the Irish property market.

Over in Deputy Wallace's beloved Italy, meanwhile, any designs his banks or indeed the Revenue Commissioners might have had on his vineyard in Cortemelia won't do them any good, given that he has already sold it to his brother to settle a debt he owed him.

"I had to sell it to a creditor -- who happens to be my brother. I owed him €550,000 and I sold him the vineyard. It's not something I wanted to do, but he was going to get nothing for the €550,000 worth of material that I had got from him for construction work," Wallace said last year.

Sunday Independent