Minister deployed discrimination to put candidate “at ease”

A minister of state, whose discriminatory comments resulted in a €7,500 compensation award, has claimed his comments were designed to put the victim “at ease.” During an interview for the post of private secretary to Minister John Halligan, the Waterford TD asked the candidate: “Are you a married woman? Do you have children? How old are your children?”

A Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) adjudication officer declared the comments discriminatory under equality legislation, after the Public Service Executive Union (PSEU) took up the case. Members of IMPACT, the PSEU and the CPSU are currently balloting on a proposed merger of the three unions.

Yesterday (Wednesday) Minister Halligan bizarrely claimed he had simply been championing “family friendly” work arrangements. In a statement, he also cited his inexperience at interviewing. “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,” he said.

However, the candidate told the WRC that he had prefaced his question by saying: “I know I shouldn’t say this.”

The WRC adjudication officer noted that other candidates were not asked the same question. “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,” she said.

PSEU general secretary Tom Geraghty said the Minister’s questions were shameful. “We hope 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,” he said.

The case was taken by PSEU official Paul Caffrey.