John Halligan: It was an innocent mistake

Junior minister John Halligan has said he will not appeal the decision which found he discriminated against a female official in a job interview by asking if she was married.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner from Thailand, Mr Halligan denied he had said he would appeal, as reported in some media outlets, and confirmed he would now not be appealing.

He also offered a fulsome apology for the incident. “I am so sorry but this was an innocent mistake. I accept the ruling,” he said.

Mr Halligan said it was a “genuine mistake” and was never meant to cause offence.

“I have no issue with paying the money back. I am not too sure how repayment could work but I have no problem in paying the money. If it can be paid, I will,” he said.

Mr Halligan faced calls from some opposition TDs to resign yesterday, but he retains the confidence of his Cabinet colleagues as well as his fellow Independent Alliance members.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald said she was “disturbed and disappointed” when she learned of Mr Halligan’s “discriminatory” question.

Speaking during leaders’ questions in the Dáil, Ms Fitzgerald said the comments, which have cost the taxpayer €7,500 by way of a settlement fee, were unacceptable and should not have been made.

“I was disturbed and disappointed to read the decision of the Workplace Relations Commission. I read it again this morning. The minister of state’s questions during the interview were discriminatory and unacceptable. That is absolutely clear,” she said.

Ms Fitzgerald was responding to questions from Labour leader Brendan Howlin who wondered would Mr Halligan be facing any further consequences over the matter.

Mr Howlin asked if Mr Halligan would repay the fine himself.

“In regard to the fine, the obligation falls on the department to pay that fine, and that is the situation. Whatever approach the minister of state, Deputy Halligan, takes, I am sure, no doubt, that when he returns on Sunday — he is abroad at present — he will give a more detailed statement,” said Ms Fitzgerald.

“The minister of state has expressed his regret and I certainly accept that he has done that.”

She offered a full apology to the female official in question on behalf of the department.

“In regard to the deputy’s point about an apology, of course 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.”

She said by law her department has to pay the €7,500 award to the official concerned, adding that it is a matter for Mr Halligan to decide if he wants to offer to pay the department back.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last night said he had confidence in Mr Halligan.

“On the notion that ministers would revert to practices that we really thought were gone, I do not think anyone in any interview situation would begin to believe one could ask those sorts of questions now,” he said.

“This level of clarity might be something positive to emerge from this debacle, and I thank the Tánaiste for that. There should be no ambivalence in regard to the type of questions that are appropriate because other employers will look at and take signals from this.”

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