Fine Gael TD says she is "spitting fire" over John Halligan interview controversy

A union representative says the junior minister's questions to an interviewee were "absolutely shocking"

Fine Gael TD says she is "spitting fire" over John Halligan interview controversy

Kate O'Connell. Image:

A Fine Gael TD says she is "spitting fire" over the John Halligan controversy.

It comes after compensation of €7,500 was awarded to a woman who was asked by the Independent Alliance Minister of State about her family circumstances in a job interview.

Minister Halligan asked the female public servant if she was married and had children.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) found that the woman had been discriminated against under the Employment Equality Act.

Labour Party spokesperson on justice, Seán Sherlock, has called on Minister Halligan to consider his position following the findings of the WRC.

Fine Gael's Kate O'Connell says she doesn't think there was any malice, and he doesn't need to resign - but also believes the questions should never have been asked in the interview.

Deputy O'Connell told Newstalk Breakfast: "I do believe him that he didn't know the difference. But I just find it highly unusual - in this day and age, after this being in force for 40 years - that anyone would think that it is appropriate.

"I think it falls into the mistake category - or [...] ignorance, or perhaps stupidity. I don't think there was any malice in it."

However, she did raise concerns about a potential "doubling down" on some of the comments, amid a report in today's Irish Independent that Minister Halligan is considering appealing the decision to the WRC.

She argued: "This, to my mind, is a clear case of putting your hands up, getting rid of the PR, [and saying] 'I was wrong, I made a mistake, I'm sorry, I learn from it, I didn't know any better' - and to genuinely mean that."

"I don't think it is a sackable offence"

Minister Halligan told the Independent that he was trying to put the interviewee at ease - but Deputy O'Connell says that is no excuse.

She said: "The question should never have come up in the interview situation. I don't think there's any need for this sort of explanation.

"It would be known that it's unacceptable, especially in the civil service. Whatever about some small employer with a couple of people... but the civil service should be setting the highest standard when it comes to things like this.

"I just find it bizarre that a new minister would be allowed in to interview people without any sort of bullet points of things you don't [ask]."

She added: "I don't think it is a sackable offence, or a resigning offence - I think it's just a 'hands-up' offence."

Meanwhile, Tom Geraghty from the Public Service Executive Union - which represented the woman - says she was right to take a case.

Also speaking to Breakfast, Mr Geraghty explained: "If this was an ordinary individual, I would be very surprised and disappointed that 40 years later people were still asking these questions.

"In the case of a Government minister - particularly a Government minister in a department that is charged with the responsibility for this very legislation - it's absolutely shocking."