John Halligan: ‘I did not ask that question specifically because she was a woman’

Independent Alliance TD says he asked man who went for secretary role about his family

Minister of State John Halligan has said he asked a man who applied to be his private secretary if he had children during the interview process.  Photograph: Nick Bradshaw.

Minister of State John Halligan has said he asked a man who applied to be his private secretary if he had children during the interview process. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw.

 

Minister of State John Halligan has said he asked a man who applied to be his private secretary if he had children during the interview process.

The Independent Alliance TD has been criticised this week after the Workplace Relations Commission ruled that a woman who applied for the same role had been discriminated against when asked questions about her family life.

Mr Halligan has offered to cover the €7,500 award made by the commission to the woman, who he had told: “I shouldn’t be asking you this, but.... are you a married woman? Do you have children? How old are your children?”

Speaking on Friday from Thailand, where he is on a trade mission, Mr Halligan said he had asked a male interviewee a similar question as he wanted to show he was an accommodating employer. He said he knew that the man who eventually got the job had three children.

“I did not ask that question specifically because she was a woman. I didn’t do this deliberately,” he told RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke. “I operate a family friendly environment in my offices. I allow my employees flexibility. That was my intention. My employees have 13 children between them.”

The Workplace Relations Commission ruling said evidence given during the hearing - either by Mr Halligan or a human resources official on his behalf - was that the other two candidates for the job were not asked similar questions during their interviews.

“It was said in evidence that the other two candidates were also put through a similar ‘getting to know you’ type process,” the ruling said. “It was further stated that the same three questions were not asked of the other two interviewees.

“I was told that the male candidate voluntarily disclosed (when asked about what he enjoyed doing in his free time) that at the weekends he likes to spend time with his son and the third candidate was not asked those three questions asked of the complainant.”

Mr Halligan has now suggested that the successful candidate was.

‘Intention to relax’

The Waterford TD acknowledged that he was wrong to ask the woman if she was married or had children. There was no “misintent” on his part.

“It was my intention to relax the interviewee,” he said, adding that he was not a professional interviewer but knew that he could not ask about gender, race or politics.

His questions were “just something that came into my head. I really didn’t think about it at the time.”

“It was my responsibility. The buck stops with me.”

He said he would not appeal the WRC ruling, but he is going to write to the body to see if he can pay the money awarded to the interviewee.

“I’m going to find out the legalities, the criteria with the payment that is to be made. I will not be found wanting.”

He said that if it is possible he was prepared to pay the legal costs of the woman in taking the case as well as to meet her to apologise in person.

“It has ached me, it has stressed me,” he said. “My record in defending women’s rights in the Dáil stands for itself. It is there for all to see. It was never my intention to offend women.”

Peace mission

The Minister of State said he had not considered resigning despite the controversy over the interview as well as over a proposed peace mission by him and two other Independent Alliance members to North Korea.

“I think I’m doing a good job as Minister. I believe in what I’m doing. I work seven days a week the same as all Ministers,” he said. “I am determined to keep doing what I’m doing unless the Taoiseach decides otherwise.”

On the issue of the proposed trip to North Korea, he said it appeared to be off as “I don’t want to engage in controversy”.

A letter had been written to the North Korean embassy to see if a visit was feasible.

“It wasn’t a question of not telling Simon Coveney. A tentative approach had been made to North Korea. I will speak to Simon Coveney and the Independent Alliance and the Department of Foreign Affairs.”

When asked if he is ‘clinging’ to the idea of the visit, he said: “There is a part of me that clings to the idea that we should talk peace where we can. I still believe we should talk to everyone.”