The Anti-Austerity Alliance have called on the newly appointed head of the expert commission on water charges to resign, complaining that he is a supporter of the levy.
Paul Murphy TD argued that comments by Joe O’Toole made in an interview with the Irish Examiner show he is “acting to ensure the commission gets the result the Government wants”.
In the interview, published yesterday, Mr O’Toole criticised left-wing anti-water charge campaigners, including Mr Murphy, saying they were “completely and utterly wrong”.
He also suggested Revenue may examine taking over the charge and that there was “bundles of money” in Ireland to invest in Irish Water.
But his comments have angered those opposed to the water charging system.
In a statement yesterday, the AAA said the former trade union leader’s comments show he is not interested in the debate around water charges but he is “acting to ensure the commission gets the result the Government wants”.
Mr Murphy added: “Joe O’Toole’s interview in the Examiner shows he is not independent and is clearly biased. He is unfit to chair the commission. He should resign immediately.”
The commission will examine the future of water charges, how Irish Water should be funded, and has five months to report before an Oireachtas committee and Dáil vote follow. Mr O’Toole will not be paid for his role, but he and the other seven members will get basic expenses, say the Department of Environment.
Mr Murphy claimed the Mr O’Toole’s comments showed that he was “a cheerleader for water charges”.
Mr O’Toole criticised left wing and socialist politicians, who want water services paid through general taxation, questioning why they wanted rich people to pay the same as someone on the minimum wage.
The former ICTU president also suggested Revenue could examine merging water charges with another levy or possibly taking over its collection and that he personally favoured household charges.
Mr O’Toole also said there was an opportunity to explore investment in Irish Water and there were “bundles of money” in the country trying to find a home.
He also said households should get a basic amount of water for domestic use free but that households should pay for additional usage after that.
Mr O’Toole also admitted it was unclear what would happen to the commission if a snap election was called.
“I can’t see how it could continue if there was an election,” he said.
Mr Murphy argued his remarks put Mr O’Toole at odds with up to 70% of TDs in the Dáil, who want charges scrapped. He added: “Joe O’Toole should resign immediately, if he refuses, the Government should consider his position if they want the public, who already have little faith in this commission, to accept anything it recommends.”
Speaking to RTÉ yesterday, Mr O’Toole defended his position and said he would not be stepping down as chairman of the commission.
While he had a view on water charges, he said this could well change, and he looked forward to hearing a number of different arguments that will modify or change his viewpoint, and he would appeal to all sides in the debate to do the same.
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