John Halligan says he is willing to pay €7,500 for interview gaffe

‘I am not too sure how repayment could work but I have no problem in paying the money’

Minister of State John Halligan told the interviewee “I know I shouldn’t be asking this”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne.

Minister of State John Halligan told the interviewee “I know I shouldn’t be asking this”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne.

 

Minister of State for the Department of Jobs John Halligan has indicated he is willing to pay the €7,500 fine for asking a civil servant if she was married during an interview.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Mr Halligan expressed his remorse for the comments made during the process,

The Minister said it was a “genuine mistake” and was never meant to cause offence.

“I am not too sure how repayment could work but I have no problem in paying the money. If it can be paid, I will,” he said, by telephone from Thailand.

The woman was awarded €7,500 by the Workplace Relations Commission, which found she had been discriminated against.

In the Dáil, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald described Mr Halligan’s questions in the job interview as “discriminatory and unacceptable”.

Ms Fitzgerald said the incident should “never have happened” and it left her feeling “disturbed and disappointed”.

She also apologised in the Dáil on behalf of the Department of Enterprise and Innovation to the woman discriminated against by Mr Halligan.

Calls have been made for Mr Halligan, who is Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research, to repay to the Department the €7,500 in compensation awarded to the civil servant for Mr Halligan’s breach of employment equality law.

The Minister of State had asked the civil servant in a job interview for one of two posts as private secretary to two Ministers of State if she was married and had children.

Ms Fitzgerald said: “The obligation falls on the Department to pay that fine. Whatever approach Minister Halligan takes to that I’m sure no doubt when he returns on Sunday, he is abroad at present, he will give a more detailed statement.”

‘Further consequences’

Labour leader Brendan Howlin asked if Mr Halligan would be required to “recoup to the department the full amount of the fine” and if there would be further consequences for the Minister of State.

He said that when an incorrect overpayment was made to then Government chief whip Regina Doherty, through no fault of her own, she was required to repay the money.

Mr Howlin said it was a personal breach of the employment equality legislation and he had full knowledge that he was wrong because he had told the interviewee “I know I shouldn’t be asking this”.

Mr Howlin also asked if the Tánaiste would apologise for Mr Halligan’s breach. He said such practices were thought to have “disappeared 20 years ago and more, and are no longer tolerated as part of normal procedures”.

Other employers would take their signal from his, he said and clarity that such practices are not allowed “might be something positive to emerge from this debacle”.

Ms Fitzgerald said: “The Minister’s questions were discriminatory and they were unacceptable. The Minister has expressed his regret for what happened. The incident should never have happened.”

The Tánaiste said gender equality was important and she, Mr Howlin and many TDs had worked for a long time “to make sure that having a family should not be interfered with whether you were promoted or got a job”.

She added: “Ireland’s body of employment law protects all persons employed in Ireland.”

She reiterated that Mr Halligan had expressed regret and issued a statement.

“The person is owed an apology and I would unequivocally give that on behalf of the Department. We certainly regret what happened and accept the decision of the Workplace Relations commission.”

Ms Fitzgerald said her office had issued an email to all department staff to remind them again of the policy and procedures in place.

“They are in place across the Civil Service in the dignity at work policy and the grievance procedures.”