Student nurses warn of cut backlash
Angry student nurses have warned politicians they will be punished in the General Election unless plans to abolish their pay during ward placements are reversed.
Up to 3,000 protesters marched through Dublin and staged a rally at the Department of Health over proposals to phase out payments to fourth-year students working on wards during a nine-month internship.
Security staff padlocked the gates around Hawkins House and senior health chiefs quickly left for lunch before nurses and midwives arrived en masse to hand in a letter calling on the in-coming minister to reverse the plan.
Louise O'Reilly, Siptu's national nursing official, told noisy demonstrators the cuts were a new low for the Government.
"We will hold our politicians to account and shame those cowards who will not pledge to reverse those cuts," she said.
"We say no to slave labour and we will punish those on February 25 who try to introduce it."
Student nurses and midwives are currently paid 80pc of the salary of a staff nurse during their mandatory 36-week placements in hospitals.
Tanaiste Mary Coughlan has asked officials to carry out a review of a decision to reduce and ultimately abolish payments over the next four years.
Four-year-old Ella Dowd dressed in a nurses uniform to support her mother Tara and aunt Maria, both from Swords, north Dublin.
Tara, a second-year psychiatric nursing student at Trinity College, fears she could be forced to leave her course if her pay is cut in her final year.
The 26-year-old lone parent already studies, has placements in St Patrick's Hospital, works weekends for an agency and cares for her daughter.
"This would make a huge difference. I'd probably end up dropping out because I couldn't afford to run my home, Ella's creche and a childminder for weekends," she said.
Maria, 20, a third-year psychiatric nursing student, added: "Next year I will have my own patients and will be administering their medications.
"That is a huge responsibility for anyone to have. Intern doctors will still get paid, why are intern nurses getting cut?"
Union leaders from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA), and Siptu are holding talks with members of each political party, including Fianna Fail, for their stance on the cuts.
INMO general secretary, Liam Doran, warned his members and their families, who wield more than 200,000 votes, will be told the reply from each party before they go to the ballot boxes.
Fourth-year pre-registration nurses and midwives will also be balloted for a withdrawal of labour in early March if they do not secure a resolution.