Kieran Foley Reports
WATERFORD’S Minister of State John Halligan endured another week under the national spotlight following controversial comments he made to a job applicant.
Minister Halligan has said he “regrets” asking a female official if she was married during a job interview.
The woman was last week awarded €7,500 by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), which found she had been discriminated against by the Waterford Independent TD’s comments.
The latest controversy came following his widely ridiculed wish to travel to North Korea to meet leader Kim Jong-un as part of a “peace mission” with Independent Alliance colleagues, Minister for Transport Shane Ross and the Minister of State with Responsibility for Disabilities Finian McGrath.
Both incidents have received significant media coverage, with some commentators questioning Minister Halligan’s suitability for a Ministerial position and calling for his resignation.
However, others believe Minister Halligan has been unfairly treated and a victim of “political correctness gone mad”.
In defence of his comments to the female job applicant, Minister Halligan has stressed that he wanted her to feel “flexible” in terms of her employment.
“Operating a family-friendly environment has always been a key ethos of mine as an employer,” he said.
“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.”
Minister Halligan said it was the first time which he conducted an interview of this sort and 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,” he said.
“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.”
He added: “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 reason behind my actions that day was to try and be as accommodating as possible to people who have children.”
Speaking to WLR last week, Brendan Halligan said his brother was “fundamentally wrong” and careless but should not pay the €7,500 himself.
He said that his brother always stood up for “victims”.
He also said that the WRC was “fundamentally wrong in making that sort of payment for that sort of discrimination”.
Brendan Halligan said that he was not minimising what had happened but added: “What I call distress and trauma is a woman or a girl who has been raped. And she makes a decision that she wants to go and have an abortion and she can’t do it, because the supports aren’t in this country to do it. I think it becomes easy for someone to say they’ve been discriminated against or hard done by.”
Meanwhile, the Sunday Independent reported that South Korea and Japan raised serious concerns with the Department of Foreign Affairs over Minister Halligan’s ill-fated peace mission to North Korea.
“The revelation that Mr Halligan’s proposed visit to Kim Jong-un’s totalitarian state sparked an international diplomatic incident with two Far East economic superpowers is hugely embarrassing for the Government at a time when it is seeking to increase its trade links in Asia,” reported Philip Ryan.
The newspaper noted that the incident is “even more damaging” given that Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed is on a seven-day State visit to Japan and South Korea as part of a drive to boost trade in the wake of Brexit.
“A senior Government source confirmed Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney was forced to intervene after South Korean and Japanese officials contacted Ireland demanding to know the reason behind the Independent Alliance visit to the nuclear dictatorship,” the paper stated, adding that Fine Gael Ministers are “furious” with Minister Halligan and his Independent Alliance colleagues.