Monday 23 April 2018

'It was grossly inappropriate' - TD calls for John Halligan to resign over marital interview questions

John Halligan
John Halligan
Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell Picture: Tom Burke

Sasha Brady and Catherine Devine

A high profile TD has called for Minister John Halligan to resign if he "remains unaware" that his interview questions about a woman's marital status were "inappropriate".

Green Party TD Catherine Martin told RTE's Morning Ireland that Mr Halligan's remarks were "grossly inappropriate".

"Would he ask a man those questions? No, I do not think so. What I've heard to date from the minister is an apology. That was needed. I heard his justification for this totally inappropriate question but what I have not heard is the admission from the minister that those questions were completely unacceptable and grossly inappropriate. We need to hear that he admits and realises that those questions were inappropriate.

"If he remains unaware that those questions were inappropriate ... then I think his position would be untenable."

This comes after it was revealed that Mr Halligan asked a female civil servant with 23 years experience if she was married and had any children during a job interview.

The Workplace Relations Committee (WRC) found that she had been discriminated against under the Employment Equality Act and she was awarded €7,500 in compensation.

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Fine Gael's Kate O'Connell said that she doesn't believe there was any malice behind his questions but said they never should have come up in the interview.

"I do believe him that he didn't know the difference but I just find it highly unusual - in this day and age - after being in this force for 40 years, that anyone would think this is appropriate," she said.

John Halligan
John Halligan

"I think it falls into the mistake category, or... ignorance, or perhaps stupidy. I don't think there was any malice in it.

"This, to my mind, is a clear case of putting your hands up, getting rid of the PR, [and saying] 'I was wrong, I made a mistake, I learn from it, I didn't know any better' and to genuinely mean that.

"The question should never have come up in the interview situation. I don't think there's any need for this sort of explanation."

Ms O'Connell said it is known that those type of questions are "unacceptable", especially in the civil service.

"Whatever about some small employer with a couple of people... but the civil service should be setting the highest standard when it comes to things like this.

"I just find it bizarre that a new minister would be allowed in to interview people without any sort of bullet points of things you don't [ask]."

She added: "I don't think it is a sackable offence, or a resigning offence - I think it's just a 'hands-up' offence."

Tom Geraghty from the Public Service Executive Union which represented the woman said she was right to take the case.

"If this was an ordinary individual I would be very surprised and disappointed that 40 years later people were still asking these questions," he told Newstalk Breakfast.

"In the case of the Government Minister - particularly a Government Minister in a department that is charged with the responsibility of this legislation, it's absolutely shocking."

Mr Halligan yesterday told Independent.ie that the questions were meant to put the civil service at ease and show her that his department was flexible.

He said that they were coming from a good place and not meant as discriminatory.

“I was simply trying to put the interviewee at ease. I wanted to assure her that I am as flexible as possible with members of my team with any external or non-work commitments they may have,” he told Independent.ie

“All of my staff start at 10am because they need to get their kids to school and can finish early if they need to. I’m upset in the sense I genuinely didn’t think I was doing anything wrong. Sometimes I am wrong but I operate a family friendly environment,” he added.

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