'Everything is very different here'
Mick Wallace settles in to life as an MEP in Brussels
It's been a busy few weeks for Wexford MEP Mick Wallace. Having bid an emotional farewell to the Dáil and taken his seat in the European Parliament, the Wellingtonbridge native has also had to contend with allegations of nepotism after it emerged that his Independents 4 Change colleague Clare Daly had hired his son Fionn as a parliamentary assistant.
'That was the greatest load of a non-story I've ever heard,' Mick says in typically blunt fashion.
'That journalist who put that story out there was just looking to build up his reputation. Fionn has been working for Independents 4 Change for the past five years. He has a first class Masters in Philosophy. He's steeped in research and in politics. Also I can assure you he's only being paid about a third of what's being reported out there at the minute.'
'Some of these journalists seem to make a living out of writing derogatory pieces about me,' he continued.
'I don't put too much pass on them. If you react you only give these things more oxygen. Unfortunately when you're in the public domain, you're seen as public property. Such is life though and that's the nature of it.'
From a personal point of view though, Mick is delighted to have his son out in Brussels with him.
'Ah yeah, obviously he's my son, so I'm delighted to have him out here, but apart from that he's very good at his work and we hope to continue with that. Myself and Clare work as a team anyway, so it's great to have Fionn out here with us.'
In terms of settling into his new European role, it's a lot for the Wexford man to take in.
'It's been head-melting to be honest,' he laughs. 'Everything is very different here. It's very bureaucratic. I acknowledge that it will be very difficult to make a difference here, but we will do it. It will require a lot more work, but we're not afraid of that either. I still feel that we can punch well above our weight. A lot of MEPs here won't make a difference; we have to. We've got great support and that brings extra pressure, but we're ready to go to work.'
Even from the point of view of finding your way around, it seems it's been a learning curve for Wallace and Daly and a million miles from what they've grown accustomed to in Dublin.
'You wouldn't believe it,' he said. 'We're working out of a temporary office at the moment. The building has 15 floors and about 400 offices on each floor. It's like a town. It's nuts here. I'm still finding my way around, but I'm learning all the time.'
Currently, the Wexford man is sitting on the committee for the environment, foreign affairs and security and defence ensuring a busy workload. Having already criticised the EU stance on the likes of Venezuela and Iran, he says initial feedback has been good, however, speakers are not afforded as much time as he'd like.
'You get more speaking time in the Dáil,' he said.
'When addressing the main parliament here you have to make all your arguments within a minute. You have to be very concise. At committee level, you have a little more time and I've spoke four times in the past week. It's great when you get a chance to make your arguments, but I feel we'll get better at that as we go along too.'
Mick is now facing into five weeks off, during which he intends to regroup and get ready to go again.
'I'm absolutely wrecked to be honest with you,' he said. 'Obviously we had the election campaign and it was only me and Seanie O'Shea going around canvassing. Then there was the long count and finally being elected. After that I still had a month in the Dáil and during that time we were over and back trying to get everything set up and get our bearings. There's been too much travelling really.'
'We have five weeks now and I'll be coming home, but we're already sitting down and working on what we'll be doing in September,' he said. 'There's a whole lot of preparation that needs to be done. If you want to do this job properly there's a massive amount of work that has to go in. I'm not afraid of work either though. I spent most of my life on building sites so I know all about it. Mind you, sometimes I think I'd rather be pouring concrete in my bare feet!'
'We're ready to work hard though and although there's a huge workload, there's great resources here too and we're allowed six or seven staff, which obviously makes a huge difference. I won't be in Brussels for the next five weeks now, but there's a lot of preparation work to get through.'