Latest: 'He made a mistake and apologised for it' - Independent Alliance members back Halligan

Update 10.21pm: Independent Alliance colleagues Shane Ross, Finian McGrath, Sean Canney and Kevin 'Boxer' Moran have tonight expressed their full confidence in Minister of State John Halligan.

Minister Halligan has been facing calls to consider his position after it emerged today that a woman was asked by the Minister during a job interview if she was married and had children. The Workplace Relations Commission found that the woman was discriminated against.

In a statement, the Independent Alliance said that Minister Halligan "made a mistake and he has apologised for it".

Update 7.33pm: The Dáil has heard a call for Junior Minister John Halligan to consider his position this evening.

It follows the revelation that compensation has been awarded to a woman who was asked by the Minister if she was married and had children, during a job interview.

The Workplace Relations Commission found that she had been discriminated against under the Employment Equality Act.

Speaking in the Dáil this evening, Labour's Justice spokesperson Sean Sherlock said: “I think it is incumbent on this Minister to come before this house forthwith, because it seemed to clear to me that he is absolutely and utterly in breach of the law and the Minister must now consider his position.”

Sean Sherlock

Update 5.55pm: Labour spokesperson on Justice Seán Sherlock has today called on Minister of State John Halligan to consider his position following the findings of the WRC regarding his conduct in an interview.

The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, where Mr Halligan is based, has been ordered to pay €7,500 in compensation to a high ranking official who was deemed to have been discriminated against after Mr Halligan asked her in a job interview ‘Are you a married woman?’.

Speaking ahead of this evening’s Dáil debate on the Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017, Deputy Sherlock said: “At a minimum, the Minister should pay this himself rather than have his Department do it. The same Minister serves in the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation which is responsible for the WRC.

“Frankly for a politician who considers himself of the left and a champion of equality, it is an outrageous abuse of position that he would ask anyone, never mind a senior civil servant, such a question.

“He should do the decent thing now and consider his position.”

Earlier:

Update 5.30pm: The union representing the civil servant who was asked by Minister for State, John Halligan in a job interview if she was married and had children yesterday described the questions as ‘shameful’, writes Gordon Deegan and Daniel McConnell.

General Secretary of the Public Service Executive Union (PSEU), Tom Geraghty said that “it beggars belief that 40 years after the enactment of the first Employment Equality Act 1977 anybody, let alone a Government Minister, would think that it is acceptable to ask questions based on an out-moded view of the role of a mother”.

Mr Geraghty said: “That such questions were asked by somebody who is a Minister in the Department that was, at the time, the Department charged with the promotion and implementation of equality legislation is, frankly, shameful.”

Minister John Halligan

He said: “We hope that that the publicity around this case makes it clear that it is never okay to ask discriminatory questions or to make discriminatory assumptions regarding candidates simply because of their family circumstances.

Mr Geraghty said that the worker wishes to retain her anonymity and stated that “it took courage for the member concerned to take on her Department and a Government Minister. Both her employer and the Minister let her, and themselves, down badly, breached the very laws that they are required to uphold and treated a member of staff in a disgraceful fashion.”

He said: “In consultation with the member concerned, we are considering next steps.”

Deputy General Secretary of PSEU, Billy Hannigan echoed his colleague’s criticism of the Minister’s questions.

He said: “Someone running a corner shop interviewing a job applicant wouldn’t ask such questions slap bang in a middle of an interview, let alone a Government Minister of a Department whose remit includes operating the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) and upholding workers’ rights”.

Mr Hannigan described Minister Halligan’s questions as ‘outrageous’.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Department Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation said the Department did not publicly comment on individual staff matters.

"We have received the adjudication of the Workplace Relations Commission. We regret the incident occurred and accept the Commission’s decision."

Earlier: Junior Minister, John Halligan, 'regrets' asking senior civil servant in interview 'are you married?'

Junior Independent Alliance Minister John Halligan has said he “regrets” asking an official whether she was married in an interview but has insisted it was an “innocent” question, writes Daniel McConnell and Gordon Deegan.

The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, where Mr Halligan is based, has been ordered to pay €7,500 in compensation to a high ranking official who was deemed to have been discriminated against after a Mr Halligan asked her in a job interview ‘are you a married woman?’.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr Halligan insisted he is a “family friendly employer” and has been for 20 years and it was a casual way of “breaking the ice”.

He said that his staff members had offered to write character references and the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) accepted his bone fides as a “good employer”.

The Executive Officer - employed by the Civil Service since 1993 - had 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, the Junior Minister said to her “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 Workplace Relations Commission (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 her ruling which found that the woman was discriminated against, WRC Adjudication Officer, Penelope McGrath found the Junior Minister’s comments to be “so outmoded”.

She said: "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."

Ms McGrath found that the woman “was put in a difficult situation in a job interview by reason of probing questions which went to the heart of her married and family life which historically could not be considered gender neutral questions”.

Ms McGrath said that the questions also “indirectly associated her with the task of primary homemaker and therefore not as available as other less encumbered candidates might be”.

Ms McGrath also found that the interview process was “tainted” by the fact that these questions were raised and allowed to be raised.

She said: “The same or even similar questions were not asked of the other two candidates. I do not find that the Complainant was not ultimately selected by reason of the questions asked and answered.”

Ms McGrath said that the complainant was entitled to rely on a circular issued by the then Asst Secretary “that all civil servants can be confident that their rights under the Employment Equality Acts are guaranteed and no one will receive less favourable treatment than someone else because of their gender or Civil status or Family status”.

After the Minister asked the contentious questions and the job applicant replied, the interview moved on.

However, the complainant felt even before the interview was completed “that the questions had been inherently unfair and she felt exposed, having been persuaded to disclose the fact that she had children of relatively tender years”.

In her letter to the HR Manager penned some two days post interview, the female official indicated that it was unfair to be in the position of having to explain how her family circumstances would not affect her performance on the one hand, and on the other hand had to worry about the fact that the lack of explanation would have been interpreted negatively against her.

Reacting to the finding this afternoon Minister Halligan told the Irish Examiner that operating a family-friendly environment has always been a key ethos for him as an employer.

"I allow all of my employees the flexibility of starting late to enable them to bring their children to school or carry out any non-work commitments they may have.

“During the course of this interview for the role of Private Secretary – shortly after I became Minister of State – I asked the candidate if she had children and their ages.

“I did this as I wanted her to feel that I would be flexible in terms of any family business that she may have to attend to. Too many workplaces have less than family-friendly arrangements and I always ensure that my workplace is as family-friendly as possible.

“This was the first time I was conducting an interview of this sort and I 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.

“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.

“During the course of the Workplace Relations Commission hearing, four members of my constituency team submitted testimonials backing up my ethos as an employer.

“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.”


 

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