Friday 17 November 2017

I made a mistake - but I'm not resigning over sexism scandal, insists Halligan

John Halligan is away on Government business in Thailand Photo: Tom Burke
John Halligan is away on Government business in Thailand Photo: Tom Burke

Philip Ryan, Niall O'Connor and Robin Schiller

Junior Minister John Halligan has insisted he will not resign over the sexism scandal that has thrown the Independent Alliance into turmoil.

But Mr Halligan said he was prepared to personally pick up the €7,500 compensation sum paid by the Department of Education to a senior civil servant who failed to land a job in his office.

Criticised question: Arts Minister Heather Humphreys Photo: Tony Gavin
Criticised question: Arts Minister Heather Humphreys Photo: Tony Gavin

He said he regretted his action and would not appeal the decision, despite previously indicating that he was considering doing so.

The Waterford TD has found himself at the centre of a political storm after it emerged he asked the woman during a job interview whether she was married and had children.

The woman this week won a case at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), which found that she was discriminated against.

The Labour Party and Sinn Féin have called on Mr Halligan to consider his position, while various Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil figures criticised him. Last night, Arts Minister Heather Humphreys praised the woman for her courage in taking the case and said the line of questioning was unacceptable.

"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 told the Irish Independent.

"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 Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty, Children's Minister Katherine Zappone and Regional Affairs Minister Michael Ring criticised the comments.

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

But speaking to the Irish Independent from Thailand last night, Mr Halligan said: "I'm out here with the Thai government and my officials working on educational issues," he said.

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

"I made a mistake and it was a genuine error," he added.

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

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

The female official 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."

Last night, fellow Independent Alliance member, Minister Shane Ross, backed his colleague on RTÉ's 'Prime Time'. "It's not untenable, it's something for which he has said he's extremely sorry," Mr Ross said.

"He's offered to pay the €7,500 himself and to ask for him to pay the ultimate price of resigning, when he's a very fine minister, I think is going too far."

Meanwhile, Mr Ross confirmed he and two other members of the Independent Alliance will not travel to North Korea for a proposed peace trip, which had been widely ridiculed. "It's off. The trip to North Korea, it is not Government policy and we are not doing anything which is in breach of Government policy," Mr Ross said.

Irish Independent

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