Joe O’Toole has blamed his decision to step down as chairman of the expert commission on water charges on his “straight talking” and Fianna Fáil’s ability to control the Government.
The former trade union boss was forced to step down as chairman yesterday after critical comments he made in the Irish Examiner this week sparked calls for his immediate resignation.
Mr O’Toole’s decision leaves the commission in crisis at a crucial time, with Housing Minister Simon Coveney set to tell Brussels about Ireland’s plan to suspend water charges.
As pressure mounted from parties for Mr O’Toole to consider his position, the former senator announced last night he had wanted to stay but had no choice but to quit.
Mr Coveney had told him the main opposition party — namely Fianna Fáil — would not co-operate with the Government as long as Mr O’Toole remained as chair, he said in a statement.
“Effectively then for me to remain in situ would result in the Government being spancilled (hobbled) in implementing policy and enacting legislation,” he said.
Mr O’Toole said walking away was disappointing but the right thing to do given the Government is facing enough problems. “I am comfortable with the fact that I put my views honestly and transparently on the record. It is regrettable that my straight-talking has caused difficulties for others but in that regard I am unlikely to change anytime soon.”
Wishing his successor the best of luck, Mr O’Toole, who only took up his post a few days ago, noted that a week is a long time in politics.
His decision follows pressure from Fianna Fáil TDs for him to consider his position and calls from the Anti Austerity Alliance to resign.
Mr Coveney told a committee yesterday that he had talked to Mr O’Toole by phone. He failed to express confidence in him when asked by TDs.
In the interview with the Irish Examiner this week, Mr O’Toole slammed left-wing politicians, said he supported water charges, and mooted the idea of Irish Water ‘bonds’ being sold.
Mr O’Toole said he found it “extraordinary” that left-wing politicians are “opposed” to the ‘polluter pays’ principle and they, including AAA TD Paul Murphy, were “completely and utterly wrong” on the issue.
He told a radio station the job of the commission might be to produce a report and solution that would “have enough sugar on it to make the medicine go down easily”.
Opposition TDs interpreted this as a sign the commission might have a predesigned position, potentially to make some sort of water charge acceptable in future.
In a statement last night, Fianna Fáil said it took “no pleasure in Joe’s departure but we believe that he has done the right thing in stepping aside”.
Housing spokesman Barry Cowen said: “The decision of the chair to pre-empt any examination of the facts and promote his personal view of what should happen next is clearly incompatible with the role he was appointed to. We were not consulted on Joe’s appointment, but we did welcome it.”
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