Human rights chief Emily Logan disappointed at John Halligan response

The country’s human rights chief has expressed disappointment that Skills Minister John Halligan tried to defend his discriminatory questioning of a prospective employee rather than simply accept that he was wrong.

Emily Logan, chief commissioner at the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), also said the HR official present while the interview took place should have stepped in to protect the candidate from Mr Halligan’s questions.

Ms Logan noted that in the report published by the Workplace Relations Commission on the case, Mr Halligan’s side sought to explain that the minister was trying to get to know the candidate when he probed her about her family life and commitments and that he offered flexible working arrangements for staff who had commitments outside of work.

Mr Halligan has since added to those remarks, insisting he offered a family-friendly work environment for staff with children and he did not think he was doing anything wrong by questioning the candidate on her personal life.

Ms Logan said: “What’s disappointing is the post-hoc comments to try and contextualise them when objectively they’re very clearly discriminatory remarks.

“It would be much more helpful for any individual who has been found to make discriminatory remarks that they should seek to say that it was wrong rather than try to dress it up or contextualising it as flexibility.”

Ms Logan also noted that the HR official had not stopped the line of questioning, had not acknowledged that failing in correspondence with the candidate when she wrote to complain, and had tried to argue that the position of private secretary to the minister was somehow exempt from normal interview rules.

“The primary responsibility lies with the person who is asking the question, but the secondary responsibiity is with anyone else in that room who should interrupt and say to the candidate: That’s not compliant — don’t feel obliged to answer that question,” she said.

Ms Hogan was speaking at the publication of a report on discrimination in Irish society. It found women were two times more likely to experience workplace discrimination than men.

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