Belfast Telegraph

Minister's interview questions 'discriminatory and unacceptable', says Tanaiste

The Tanaiste has said a Government colleague's questions to a senior civil servant about her marital status in a job interview are disturbing and disappointing.

Amid calls for Independent Alliance minister John Halligan to resign over the incident, Ms Fitzgerald, minister for enterprise and innovation, apologised to the woman.

The Tanaiste said she accepted Mr Halligan's regret over the line of questioning.

"The minister's questions during the interview were discriminatory and they were unacceptable, that's absolutely clear," she said.

Mr Halligan, minister of state for training and skills, who is currently in Thailand on government business, was on an interview panel to select a new private secretary in May 2016.

He asked a candidate with 23 years experience if she was married and had children. He also said he knew he should not be asking the questions.

In a case taken to the Workplace Relations Commission, the civil servant said she felt the questions were unfair and inappropriate.

She is being paid 7,500 euro compensation by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

Mr Halligan issued a statement saying he regretted the line of questioning.

"The incident should never have happened and he has accepted that," Ms Fitzgerald told the Dail.

"The person is owed an apology and I want to unequivocally give that on behalf of the department."

There have also been calls for Mr Halligan to foot the compensation bill himself, with minister for rural and community development Michael Ring calling for the personal intervention on Today with Sean O'Rourke on RTE Radio.

The affair was highlighted as new research revealed women are twice as likely as men to face discrimination at work.

In a study of discrimination in society based on Central Statistics Office records, leading think tank the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission found issues of pay and promotion for women are frequently raised.

It also found almost one in eight people in Ireland reported some experience of discrimination over the preceding two years.

The analysis showed that Travellers face the worst discrimination and are almost 10 times more likely to be discriminated against when looking for work.

They are also 22 times more likely to experience discrimination in accessing private services, the report found.

Lead author Frances McGinnity, of the ESRI, said: "Discrimination can be damaging to the individuals who experience it, in terms of their self-esteem, well-being and for their material outcomes such as their income and access to valued positions and services.

"There are also costs at a societal level. Discrimination in the labour market may be economically inefficient, as the skills of individuals are not effectively used. Discrimination can also undermine social cohesion."

The study also found people with a disability are more than twice as likely to be discriminated against at work, in recruitment and in accessing public and private services.

The ESRI said black people in Ireland are three times more likely to experience discrimination in the workplace and in access to public services, and over four times more likely to experience discrimination in access to private services.

People aged 45-64 are more likely than younger people to experience discrimination when looking for work, the report said.

And it also found that never-married lone parents are more likely to experience discrimination in public and private services than unmarried adults with no children.

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