Mood sours as ministers urge talks on non-pay issues

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has accused the Government of a “cynical” attempt to break their strike action after two ministers urged nurses to meet for fresh talks — on any issue except pay.

INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha rubbished the offer after Health Minister Simon Harris and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said the warring sides could hold peace talks through the Workplace Relations Commission.

In a joint statement last night, just hours before thousands of INMO members prepared to down tools for the second time in less than a week today, Mr Harris and Mr Donohoe said they believe an agreement can be reached to call off the strikes.

Saying the independent Workplace Relations Commission “remain available to facilitate” talks, the two senior ministers said the Government is willing to discuss the matter further with nurses if they leave the picket lines.

However, in a remark that has fueled fresh anger, Mr Harris and Mr Donohoe —who last week sparked anger by saying they were “legally considering” blocking striking nurses from receiving planned pay increases, before a Government U-turn on the hardline position at the weekend — added the talks could happen on any issue, except pay.

“The Ministers for Health and Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform note with disappointment that further strike action by the INMO is going ahead tomorrow [Tuesday] and Thursday,” a joint statement read.

“The Government has always listened to the concerns expressed by nurses in relation to working conditions and job satisfaction as well as the patient experience.

The ministers continue to be willing to engage in talks on the range of workplace related issues other than pay to try to resolve the dispute.

"This initiative could focus on the contribution and arrangements for the further rollout of the Safe Staffing Framework to improve staff and patient outcomes and reduce reliance on agency staffing in our hospitals.

“In addition, this engagement would encompass other relevant organisational issues appropriate to supporting quality and efficiency in the provision of patient service delivery in an integrated way.

“The ministers call for immediate engagement in the context of the current dispute with relevant union interests and understand that the Workplace Relations Commission remain available to facilitate the parties in this regard.”

Ms Ní Sheaghdha hit back at the Government last night, accusing Mr Harris and Mr Donohoe of “the most cynical move I have seen in a long time”.

The union leader said while non-pay issues involving nurses were addressed in a 2017 deal, this agreement collapsed, in her view, because HSE managers were unable to fill existing posts.

Noting the decision again by Government to insist that pay cannot be discussed, Ms Ní Sheaghdha said the position is “spin” and “hugely disrespectful” to nurses, adding that she was disappointed to learn of the ministers’ view via a press release instead of in person.

Phil Ní Sheaghdha

Government sources have indicated they are in favour of resolving the ongoing dispute in any way possible, provided the wider public sector pay deal is not affected, adding they are willing to consider potential proposals during Workplace Relations Commission talks.

However, Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly dismissed the suggestion last night, telling the Irish Examiner there is no point in returning to Workplace Relations Commission talks just a week after they broke down unless pay is on the agenda.

“I have never in my life dealt with a Government less capable of addressing an industrial relations dispute,” she said.

“There is no point in returning to the WRC yet unless pay increases are there, because nothing has changed.”

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