herald

Wednesday 14 November 2018

'I'm not going to resign, it was a genuine error', says sexism storm Halligan

John Halligan
John Halligan

Junior minister John Halligan has insisted he will not resign after asking a woman whether she was married and had children while he was interviewing her for a job.

Mr Halligan has said he is prepared to pay - from his own pocket - the €7,500 compensation awarded to the woman by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) for discrimination.

"I'm out here with the Thai government and my officials working on educational issues," he said, speaking to the Herald from Thailand last night.

"I like what I'm doing and I'm not going to resign.

"I made a mistake and it was a genuine error."

The Minister of State for Training and Skills also said he did not intend to appeal against the decision - despite previously indicating that he was considering doing so.

Courage

The €7,500 compensation was paid by the Department of Education to a senior civil servant who failed to land a job in his office.

The Waterford TD has found himself at the centre of a political storm after his line of questioning during the interview emerged when the woman won her case at the WRC earlier this week.

The Labour Party and Sinn Fein have called on Mr Halligan to consider his position, while various Fine Gael and Fianna Fail figures criticised him for his line of questioning.

Last night, Arts Minister Heather Humphreys praised the woman in question for her courage in taking the case and said Mr Halligan's line of questioning was unacceptable.

Minister Heather Humphreys
Minister Heather Humphreys

"While I don't think he meant anything untoward, anyone going on an interview panel needs to make themselves aware of what they can and cannot ask," Ms Humphreys said.

"I would like to commend the official who came forward with her complaint because it took bravery and conviction to do so.

"What this case does show us is that the processes we have in place work - the official was asked an inappropriate question in a job interview by a minister, took a case to the WRC and won."

Other senior ministers, such as Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald, Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty, Children's Minister Katherine Zappone and Rural and Community Development Minister Michael Ring criticised Mr Halligan's questions.

Sources close to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the incident should not have happened.

The WRC ruling found the executive officer, who had been employed by the civil service since 1993, applied in May 2016 for one of two posts of private secretary to two junior government ministers in the same department.

"I shouldn't be asking you this, but... are you a married woman? Do you have children? How old are your children?" Mr Halligan said to the official during the interview.

Busy

The civil servant answered the questions and confirmed that she was married and that she was the mother of two children, and she indicated their ages.

In reply, the minister observed "you must be very busy".

In her ruling, which found that the woman was discriminated against, WRC adjudication officer Penelope McGrath said the junior minister's comments were "so outmoded".

"It was ill-advised of the minister of state to have so pointedly obtained information that had nothing to do with this candidate's suitability for a position, and a position for which she had determined she was eligible to compete," she said.

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