Minister of State John Halligan has insisted he will pay back the €7,500 fine imposed by the Workplace Relations Commission after he asked a civil servant if she was married during an interview.
The Independent Alliance TD has been criticised after his Government department was ordered to pay the woman €7,500 by the commission, which found she had been discriminated against.
Speaking to The Irish Times, the Independent Alliance Minister expressed his remorse for the comments, stressing it was a "genuine mistake" and was never meant to cause offence.
While he was unaware of how repayment would work, the Minister of State said he was eager to pay the money back if that option was available to him. Mr Halligan said he would make every effort possible to ensure the taxpayer does not have to pay the fine.
"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, where he is on a trade mission. It is his 19th official foreign trip since taking office 17 months ago.
The commission heard Mr Halligan asked a woman if she was married and whether she had children during an interview for the position of his Private Secretary.
The woman answered the questions, confirming that she was married and she was the mother of two children and she indicated their ages. In reply, the Minister observed “you must be very busy”.
The Minister of State insisted he did not intend to make the interviewee feel uncomfortable and apologised to her again.
“I am sad that this has happened,” he said. I have apologised. “It was a genuine error. Five of the people who work with me have 13 children between them and I try to help them out in a family-friendly environment.
“It was a mistake, a genuine mistake. I knew you couldn’t ask questions about religion, sex or age but I said what I said in a casual manner in a conversation. I know now I was wrong.”
Despite media reports, Mr Halligan also insisted he had no intention of appealing the outcome of the WRC.
The Independent Alliance also met yesterday to discuss the fall-out from the decision and agreed Mr Halligan should make every effort to pay the money back.
A number of Fine Gael sources also stressed their desire for the Minister of State to reimburse the money.
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 stand aside.
Green Party deputy leader Catherine Martin and Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger said Mr Halligan had breached the legislation his department was tasked with upholding.
However, other TDs including People before Profit's Bríd Smith and Fianna Fáil's James Lawless said the focus should be on paying the money.