Thursday 22 August 2019

John Halligan: 'I asked male candidates the same question, I was trying to put people at ease'

John Halligan Photo: Tom Burke
John Halligan Photo: Tom Burke

Kathy Armstrong and Alan O'Keeffe

Junior Minister John Halligan has said he is willing to pay all legal costs after controversial remarks he made to a woman he was interviewing about her marital status led to a compensation direction from the Workplace Relations Commission.

The WRC determined that the Waterford TD discriminated against a female civil servant with 23 years experience under the Employment Equality Act when he asked her if she is married or has children.

His department has been ordered to pay €7500 compensation to the senior official as a result.

Speaking today he offered to foot the bill for all legal costs, as well as covering the cost of compensation.

Speaking on The Sean O'Rourke Show on RTE Radio One, he said: "I'm going to write to the WRC to see exactly how I can repay that money.

"I will write to them and find out the logistics and criteria laid down for the payment that needs to be made.

"If it's a case that I have to (pay the legal costs) then I'll do it, I'm going to write to the WRC and see can that be done."

Mr Halligan claimed that he was trying to "accommodate" his staff and said he asked the same question to male candidates.

He said: "It was a mistake, I regret it and if I had my way I'd change it.

"I didn't realise straight away it was a mistake, to be honest I didn't really even think about it at the time.

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Children's Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: Steve Humphreys

"I think I was interviewing three people at the time and it was only when it was pointed out to me at a later stage.

"I had male candidates that day and I asked them the same question.

"I was trying to make people feel at ease so after we had finished talking about their CV, I asked them what they did in their spare time.

"I asked another chap the same question about family, for the very same reason to be accommodating, it wasn't for any other reason."

He said that the backlash following his comments has left him "stressed".

He said: "I have publicly apologised, you can't do much more than that but it was an error of judgement, I can only say from my heart that it was well-intentioned to try to be accommodating to people have children.

"It's a difficult position to work with a minister because you are working later hours, early morning and sometimes you do more than your eight hours - 12, 14 or even 16 hour days...

"I am stressed with this, my record with working with women and championing women is there for all to see in the Dail and on public record.

"It would never be my intention to offend women, my staff wrote to the WRC to say I accommodate those who have children, I operate a family friendly policy."

Meanwhile, Children's Minister Katherine Zappone said today she was "deeply disappointed" by the statements Mr Halligan made during the interview.

Asking the woman if she was married and had children was "inappropriate and discriminatory," she said.

Speaking as she arrived in Tallaght to open a Respond family hub for homeless families, she said there were "lots of lessons to be learned" from the revelations about the minister's inappropriate remarks at the interview for a personal assistant.

"Obviously there are lots of lessons to be learned.  It was inappropriate and discriminatory, his remarks.

"I suppose the primary lesson is that, when interviewing, you fully understand the practice of our equality legislation," she said.

"I understand he has apologised and he has offered to pay'" said Minister Zappone.

"His initial remarks were inappropriate, discriminatory and deeply disappointing.

"But due process is being followed," she said.

She said she intended to speak with Minister Halligan about the issue "when I see him," she said.

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