Saturday 24 August 2019

Philip Ryan: 'Son's job with Daly puts Wallace's past back in spotlight'

Philip Ryan on why the 'defender of the little guy' cannot take the high ground on his own son's plum Europe role

MOVING ON: New MEPs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly together outside Leinster House in 2017. Picture: Tom Burke
MOVING ON: New MEPs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly together outside Leinster House in 2017. Picture: Tom Burke
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Mick Wallace put on his mint-coloured V-neck T-shirt for the occasion. After all, the television cameras would be rolling and he might end up on the Six One News.

There was also the not inconsequential fact he was going to have an opportunity to question Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan at an Oireachtas committee hearing.

He had done good work looking into the guards over the previous three or four years. He genuinely made a name for himself in the media as someone who is dedicated to uncovering corruption and fighting for the little guy.

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People seemed to have forgotten he used to be a millionaire property developer who fiddled the VAT returns of his company, which ended up owing the Revenue Commissioner €1.4m.

No one seemed to care that his construction company went to the wall directly resulting in dozens of jobs losses and who knows how many people indirectly became unemployed because the firm was liquidated.

They believed him when he talked about the pressure he was under to save jobs as construction company boss when the property market imploded. Some developers got a hard time but not Mick. He didn't even get much flak when he revealed that he discussed on radio hiring a hitman to recover a €20,000 debt.

They liked his hair and his funny T-shirts. They didn't mind that he used to own an Italian vineyard. It didn't matter that he owned a string of restaurants and a football team - he was just like everyone else struggling during the recession. He liked going on the telly with Vincent Browne and telling the nation how it was when politicians were lying through their teeth.

He really got stuck into the Garda corruption stuff. Listened to Garda Sergeant Maurice McCabe when no one else would and forced the Government to realise An Garda Siochana was in desperate need of reform.

He couldn't do it on his own, of course. Clare Daly was a good pal. Only a good friend would turn their back on their colleagues in the Socialist Party to join forces with a former property developer who fiddled taxes and used to own a vineyard. To hell with ideology. At the time, the Socialist Party said Clare's political connection to Mick, "damaged her reputation but also, by implication, has potentially damaged the reputation of the Socialist Party". Clare didn't agree and turned her back on the party of Joe Higgins for good.

On Wednesday, October 12, 2016, Clare was sitting right beside Mick for the Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality hearing with Commissioner O'Sullivan. It wasn't the first time they got to ask the commissioner tough questions and probably wouldn't the last.

Clare was first up and she got stuck into the commissioner on the plight of whistleblowers who felt they were coming up against a brick wall when they raised concerns about their work. O'Sullivan was evasive to say the least and Clare got frustrated with the responses. After around 15 minutes or so, Mick got his turn to question the commissioner and he wasn't going to let this opportunity pass without a bit of a show.

He said the commissioner "painted a pretty picture as if everything was excellent" in the force despite serious failings identified by a number of reviews of An Garda Siochana.

The commissioner said that was not her intention and conceded more work needed to be done to bring the guards into the 21st Century.

Mick was far from done. "The commissioner talks about cultural change," he began. "There was much talk about cultural change when the former commissioner, Martin Callinan, and the former minister, Alan Shatter, went, but many people in the Commissioner's organisation, and we communicate with many of them, would argue that not only has the culture not changed but, if anything, it has deteriorated," he added.

He was on a roll now and was ready to land his killer blow. He looked up from his notes directly at O'Sullivan for this one. "What does the commissioner say to the comments many would have put to us that she has promoted many people about whom complaints have been made, that she promoted her husband and her bridesmaid, and that she surrounded herself with her supporters rather than concentrating on promoting quality personnel?"

Noirin O'Sullivan promoted her bridesmaid and her husband? This was big. Mick felt like he'd scored from 20 yards in the San Siro and was about to pull his T-shirt over his head and slide towards the sidelines. But then the commissioner responded.

"The first thing I would like to say is that there are many factual inaccuracies in the public domain. Lest one of them remain, namely, that I promoted my bridesmaid, that certainly was not the case. I was going to say 'because I did not have a bridesmaid' but besides that, it is important that we deal with accuracies," she said. She went on: "If a member of An Garda Siochana, or a member of any organisation, is defined by the person they just happen to be associated with, be it through marriage or otherwise, I do not believe that is appropriate."

Mick might have recalled this interaction with the commissioner when the Irish Independent revealed Clare hired his son Fionn to work as her taxpayer-funded European Parliament assistant - a position which can command more than €8,500 a month.

Mick could not have hired his son because strict European Parliament rules prohibit MEPs from hiring close family members for these lucrative positions. Maybe Mick didn't give his questioning of O'Sullivan a second thought when the story emerged. Maybe he believes there is no comparisons to be made between him falsely accusing the Garda commissioner of promoting a fictional bridesmaid and his colleague employing his son. Clare probably didn't think about it either. She believes she got the best man for the job. Although she won't tell us why he's the best man for the job and won't tell us how much of our money she has personally decided he deserves due to the mystery qualifications she says he has.

On Facebook, Clare said: "Everyone an MEP wants to hire has to go through a recruitment process run by the European Parliament during which they have to provide evidence of their qualifications and experience," she said.

"I consider myself fortunate to have assembled an excellent team of highly qualified professionals to do the job they have been employed to do," she added.

She said she would be "fully transparent" about how she spends the lucrative EU expenses she is now entitled to but didn't reply to any questions about how much she will pay Mick's son.

Clare probably hopes what she calls a "sensational non-story" will go away so she and Mick can continue fighting for the rights of people like convicted dissident republican terrorists, Donal O Coisdealbha, while also taking on the EU's attempt to integrate the military forces of member states.

Or maybe Clare and Mick just want to focus on campaigning to clear Wiki-Leaks founder Julian Assange of sexual assault allegations.

Whatever it is they're planning, we will be funding it.

Sunday Independent

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