Tuesday 23 July 2019

Government accused of ‘cynical PR manoeuvres’ on nurses during Leaders’ Questions

Deputy Micheal Martin said the press release about the strike ‘only served to make it worse and compound problem’.

Nurses take part in their second day of industrial action (Niall Carson/PA)
Nurses take part in their second day of industrial action (Niall Carson/PA)

By Aoife Moore, Press Association

The government has been accused of “cynical PR manoeuvres” in their handling of the nurses and midwives strike.

There were tense scenes during Tuesday’s Leaders’ Questions when Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin questioned Leo Varadkar about a press release issued “at the 11th hour” of the industrial action.

Noting that the “health service is in crisis”, Mr Martin said the press release from Health Minister Simon Harris and Minister of Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe about the strike, “only served to make it worse and compound the problem”.

“Sent via press release without any engagement to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (Inmo) directly, the Inmo director has described it as; ‘the most cynical thing I have seen in a long time’,” Mr Martin said.

“The union has rejected it as government spin and massively disrespectful to nurses and patients, you cannot solve industrial relations disputes by such cynical PR manoeuvres.”

The Taoiseach said the government would make sure the incident was not repeated.

“I appreciate that the nurses’ union felt that the offer of further talks was discourteous as they heard it through a press release rather than direct contact, we’ll make sure that doesn’t reoccur, but we shouldn’t forget tens of thousands of people found out through the media that their respite was being cancelled this week too.

“I do believe it can be resolved, we are open for engagement but only if it is affordable to taxpayers and fair to all public servants who we have a pay deal with already.”

Mr Martin, taking long pauses between each question, replied: “Did I hear you correctly? You didn’t make any direct contact? Are you serious?

“That is pathetic.

“Have you reprimanded your ministers? What were they at last night? Just a cynical PR exercise?

“It’s appalling that a Taoiseach would say ‘we engaged in optics last night essentially’, clearly just to be seen to do something.

“That is a pathetic way to approach a grave dispute.”

The Taoiseach said the offer was sincere, and whether made through public statement directly or indirectly should not matter.

Likewise, Sinn Fein Mary Lou McDonald placed blame at the door of Fine Gael for the industrial action which saw 30,000 nurses take to pickets across the country.

“We’re two days in and have seven days to go, all you have to offer is robotic monologues, nothing you have said has the seeds of resolving the dispute.

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Nurses take part in their second day of industrial action over pay and conditions at Naas General Hospital, in Co Kildare (Niall Carson/PA)

“If this strike continues, the fault lies with you, and your spectacular inertia and refusal to act.”

The Taoiseach replied that he would not take any guidance from Sinn Fein, who have “no advice” to offer on negotiating considering the stalemate between their party and the DUP in Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party’s Brendan Howlin said the Fine Gael government “seems to have adopted a Celtic Tiger attitude for overspending” in relation to the new National Children’s Hospital.

The hospital has been mired in controversy since it was announced the project may not be able to be completed for less than 2bn euro.

Mr Howlin questioned how the Mr Donohoe could not have known about the overspend until November, when the Minister for Health was made aware in August.

Mr Varadkar assured the Dail that Mr Harris “did the right thing” and sought information before presenting the issue to government.

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