Calls for government to 'do the right thing' over nurses' strike

Nurses take part in their third day of industrial action outside St. James' Hospital in Dublin. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

The Government has been called on to "do the right thing" and engage with striking nurses without preconditions.

Nurses and midwives who took part in a third day of industrial action today and are set to strike for three consecutive days next week.

Speaking in the Dáil, Health Minister Simon Harris said the Government is eager to come to "a fair and satisfactory solution" but it would have to be one that preserves the integrity of all elements of the public sector pay agreement reached last year.

Solidarity PBP TD Mick Barry encouraged a group of nurses who watched the debate from the public gallery to "keep your nerve" and keep up the pressure on the picket line.

Mr Harris said the current agreement commits to "significant increases" in pay by 2020 and will mean many will see wage increases of between 2 to 2.5% by the end of this year.

The Minister said he is willing to engage in talks on the range of workplace-related issues other than pay.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe also said: "If we make any one movement in this wage agreement for one group, it has immediate consequences for every other group".

But he acknowledged that recommendations from the commission allow for targeted changes, particularly around allowances that would be unlikely to trigger any competing claims from elsewhere in our public service.

"I still accept, stand by and believe in that piece of work," said Mr Donohoe.

TDs from across the opposition demanded that the Government enter talks without preconditions with Labour TD Alan Kelly asking "what's to be lost" in doing so? "It's going to happen anyway, it might as well happen now," he said.

Sinn Féin health spokesperson Louise O'Reilly said nurses working abroad want to be given a reason to come home. "Pay them decently, stop educating our nurses and our midwives to work in health services elsewhere," she said.

Ms O'Reilly said Mr Harris now has the opportunity to "do the right thing" and enter talks but said "there is no point everyone sitting around a table looking at each other when there is no will to resolve the dispute."

Fianna Fáil's Stephen Donnelly said health care professionals are now at their wits' end while his party colleague Barry Cowen said patients and the public are now suffering.

Dr Michael Harty said the strike is a result of a "failure to anticipate and deal with the frustration that nurses have" and said there is now a need for massive reform of the health system.

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