Former mayor of Co Cork Tom Sheahan said it was “never his intention to create any controversy, hurt or division” and revealed he had decided to stand down.
Mr Sheahan, a former county councillor who lost his seat in last year’s local elections, was backed by the FG party to take up a post on the Cork County VEC.
It was the first time in living memory that a political party put up a candidate against a Church of Ireland nominee and led Fianna Fáil to accuse Fine Gael of “political cronyism”.
Mr Sheahan won the vote against Canon George Salter, which prompted Church of Ireland Bishop Paul Colton to call on Education Minister Mary Coughlan to review how nominees were selected on VECs.
“In the best interests of harmony on the VEC I have decided to step down. I regret that my recent appointment as a community representative to County Cork VEC has caused a difficulty for a sector of our community which I hold in the highest esteem,” Mr Sheahan, a Buttevant auctioneer, said.
Cllr Donal O’Rourke, who led FF opposition to Mr Sheahan’s appointment, said Fine Gael was wrong to vote to exclude the representative of the Church of Ireland, Canon George Salter, who was the outgoing vice chairman of County Cork VEC.
“Can you imagine the public uproar if the opposite were to happen at local authority level across the border? For Fine Gael to persist with the election of one of their former colleagues was to lose sight of the consequences for education,” Mr O’Rourke said.
He said it was time that Ms Coughlan introduced legislation to guarantee parity of esteem for the religious trustees in educational partnerships.
A spokesman for the Department of Education said a national review of VECs is under way.
It is proposed to reduce their number from 33 to 22 and the spokesman said the membership of VECs would be discussed in tandem with this.
Bishop Colton said he “appreciated the magnanimity of the gesture” made by Mr Sheahan and was hopeful that the Church of Ireland could continue to be involved in the work of the VEC through Canon Salter.
Cllr Michael Hegarty, the FG leader on Cork County Council, said he welcomed Mr Sheahan’s decision and added his party had put no pressure on him to stand down. Cllr Hegarty said he hoped Bishop Colton’s nominee would now take possession of the vacant seat on the VEC.