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Frances Fitzgerald 'disturbed and disappointed' over John Halligan 'discriminatory' question

Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald has said she was “disturbed and disappointed” when she learned of Minister John Halligan's “discriminatory” question to a female official during an interview, writes Daniel McConnell, Political Editor.

Speaking during Leaders' Questions in the Dail on Thursday, Mrs Fitzgerald said the comments which have cost the taxpayer €7,500 by way of a settlement fee, were unacceptable and should not have been made.

She was responding to questions from Labour leader Brendan Howlin who wondered would Mr Hallligan be facing any further consequences over the matter.

In response to Mr Howlin, Mrs Fitzgerald said that Mr Halligan who is in Thailand has expressed his regret and she accepted that.

She offered a full apology to the female official in question on behalf of the department.

She said by law her department has to pay the €7,500 award to the official concerned adding that it is a matter for Mr Halligan to decide if he wants to offer to pay the department back.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last night told the Irish Examiner that he has confidence in Mr Halligan.

The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, where Mr Halligan is based, has been ordered to pay €7,500 in compensation to a high ranking official who was deemed to have been discriminated against after a Mr Halligan asked her in a job interview ‘are you a married woman?’.

Also at Leaders' Questions, Mrs Fitzgerald was challenged by Fianna Fail's Billy Kelleher of the unacceptable waiting lists in hospitals.

Mr Kelleher cited a number of individual cases including one of a 91-year-old man from West Cork who was forced to travel to Belfast to recieve cateract treatment.

In response, the Tanaiste said a huge challenge is facing the health service in terms of bringing waiting lists under control but insisted progress is being made.

Health Minister Simon Harris informed the Dail that waiting lists have fallen for the third month in a row.