Sunday 25 September 2016

Joe O'Toole forced to stand down as chairman of Water Commission over controversial remarks

John Downing and Niall O’Connor

Published 05/07/2016 | 15:05

Former Independent senator Joe O’Toole has come under fire for remarks he made in a series of media interviews. Photo: Tom Burke
Former Independent senator Joe O’Toole has come under fire for remarks he made in a series of media interviews. Photo: Tom Burke

Government efforts to defuse the marathon row over water charges have been dealt yet another blow.

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Joe O’Toole, the chairman of an expert water commission, tasked with charting a way out of the dispute, has been forced to quit just a week after he was first appointed.

Announcing his decision, Mr O’Toole said he had been forced out of the job by threats from Fianna Fáil to withdraw cooperation from the minority Government on water issues.

Mr O’Toole, a former Senator and teachers’ union leader, had been under fire for comments in a series of media interviews since his appointment was announced last Tuesday.

Mr O’Toole insisted water charges must be paid and he questioned the credentials of left-wing activists who opposed broadening the tax base. He later defended his views and said he would carry out his job independently and dispassionately.

Planning Minister Simon Coveney showed he was ready to stand by his appointee amid criticism from the Anti-Austerity Alliance/ People Before Profit and Sinn Fein.

But on Monday night Fianna Fáil, which changed its position to oppose water charges during this year’s election, announced that Mr O’Toole must resign.  

This afternoon Mr Coveney effectively signalled Mr O’Toole’s departure when he appealed for “time and space” so that the chairman could make a personal statement.

Mr O’Toole followed by releasing a short statement confirming his resignation.

“It had been my firm intention to remain as Chair of the Expert Commission on Water. I was looking forward to progressing the important work of the Commission and proving my critics wrong,” he said.

“That was until Minister Coveney informed me that the main opposition party would not cooperate with Government on this and related issues for as long as I remained in the chair. 

"Effectively then for me to remain in situ would result in the Government being spancelled in implementing policy and enacting legislation,”  Mr O’Toole added.

In two separate contributions earlier today, Mr Coveney and Taoiseach Enda Kenny signalled that Mr O’Toole was preparing to step down.

Speaking at an Oireachtas committee, Mr Coveney said Mr O’Toole would make a personal statement about his position.

At the same time, Mr Kenny was asked about Mr O’Toole’s position in the Dáil.

“He will issue a statement at some stage today,” Mr Kenny said when asked whether he will call on him to resign by Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams.

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