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John Halligan says he'd pay €7.5k compensation as opposition calls on him to resign

During an interview, Halligan asked a woman if she was married and if she had children.

Minister of State John Halligan
Minister of State John Halligan
Image: Sam Boal

Updated 6.05pm

JUNIOR MINISTER JOHN Halligan has said that he would be willing to pay the €7,500 compensation that a government department has been ordered to give a woman after comments he made during a job interview.

The woman was asked by Halligan if she was married or had children during the interview in May 2016, and she took her case to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).

Speaking to RTÉ News from Thailand, the Waterford TD said he would be happy to pay the compensation costs out of his own pocket, and that he wouldn’t appeal the WRC judgement.

Earlier, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald told the Dáil she was “disturbed” and “disappointed” to read about the comments made by Halligan.

During Leaders’ Questions today, the Tánaiste said his comments were “discriminatory” and “unacceptable”.

Halligan said to the executive officer: “I shouldn’t be asking you this, but…. Are you a married woman?’ Do you have children? How old are your children?”.

Taken off guard, the female official answered the questions – she 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”.

At a WRC hearing into the official’s claim of discrimination under the Employment Equality Acts, the junior minister’s words at the interview were neither challenged or denied.

In a statement issued yesterday, Halligan said

As a true advocate for equality for all, I regret that this incident occurred. The reasons behind my actions that day was to try and be as accommodating as possible to people who have children.

He said this was the first time he had conducted an interview of this sort, and said he did not realise that it was unacceptable to ask such a question.

“But the question was coming from a good place. It was in no way meant to be discriminatory in any shape.“

Fitzgerald said the incident should “never have happened” and apologised on behalf of the Department of Enterprise and Innovation to the woman involved in the case.

“The person is owed an apology and I would unequivocally give that on behalf of the department. We certainly regret what happened and accept the decision of the Workplace Relations Commission.”

When asked by Labour’s Brendan Howlin if Halligan would be paying the fine himself, Fitzgerald said the obligation to pay falls on the department.

Howlin said such interview practices “disappeared 20 years ago” and said such actions by the junior minister could signal to other employers that this is acceptable behaviour.

Fitzgerald said the issue of gender equality is important to her, stating that many TDs have worked for a long time to ensure that “having a family should not be interfered with whether you were promoted ort got a job”.

She said Halligan had expressed regret about the incident and said he would be making a fuller statement upon his return from Thailand, where he is doing government business.

The minister said her department has emailed all government departments to remind them of the policy and procedures that are in place.

Several Fine Gael TDs have expressed their disgust at Halligan’s comments, and there have been calls from those in opposition for Halligan to resign.

With reporting from Sean Murray

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