Monday 18 February 2019

Government accused of refusing to engage with the strikers

Taoiseach puts temporary halt on plans to punish nurses financially

‘Regret’: Leo Varadkar spoke out against “disruption”. Picture: Damien Eagers
‘Regret’: Leo Varadkar spoke out against “disruption”. Picture: Damien Eagers

Eilish O'Regan, Cormac McQuinn and Anne Marie Walsh

Sarah Lennon of Inclusion Ireland, which advocates for people with an intellectual disability, said last night: "Day centres provide an important lifeline and outlet for people with an intellectual disability. I would ask everyone to be aware of their importance."

The INMO is also planning to extend the strike to more day centres for the elderly which were not included in last week's action.

Announcing the two additional strike days on February 19 and 21, the INMO executive, which met on Saturday, said it was announcing the escalation and additional dates for the nurses' and midwives' strike "in the face of the Government's refusal to meaningfully engage with the union".

The INMO will also be organising a national rally next Saturday.

General secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said: "Everybody - except the Government - recognises that there is a serious understaffing problem in our health services. The public support for the strike on Wednesday showed that the Irish people stand with nurses and midwives.

"Our message is clear. We will not be going away - resolving this dispute requires direct engagement from the Government, recognising the real recruitment and retention problems in Irish nursing and midwifery.

"We simply want to be able to do our jobs, but our health service cannot hire enough nurses and midwives on these uncompetitive wages. As ever, we remain available for talks with the Government for any realistic proposals."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar moved yesterday to quell fears the nurses would face financial penalties as a result of the strike, similarly to what happened to members of teachers' union ASTI when they took industrial action.

"We're not planning on doing that (implementing pay sanctions).

"The sense that we have in Government is that that would be provocative and might make it harder to resolve this dispute," Mr Varadkar told RTÉ's 'This Week' programme yesterday.

But he also added: "At a certain point we will have to treat the nurses the same as we treat the secondary teachers.

"It wouldn't be fair to treat the secondary teachers differently than the nurses but our judgment at the moment is that withdrawing the benefits of the agreement would be provocative, would be an escalation and might make it more difficult at this stage to resolve this."

He said he regrets the "enormous inconvenience" and "disruption" being caused to patients who are having appointments and operations cancelled.

The Taoiseach said even if the renewed action was called off today it was "too late now to reschedule all of the operations and appointments that are happening [tomorrow]".

Mr Varadkar said the industrial action is "technically" a breach of the public service stability agreement.

"I understand that nurses are very aggrieved about their pay and conditions and the conditions that they have to work in sometimes," he said.

"I know they have enormous public support and I don't think that public support will diminish over the next couple of weeks.

"So Government wants to resolve this and we can resolve it but it can only be resolved within certain parameters."

The HSE said "efforts are continuing to try to avert" tomorrow's action.

"We are continuing to work with the INMO on arrangements for the day to ensure safe service provision, particularly in the area of urgent care and cancer services."

If a patient's procedure is going ahead, the hospital will be in contact directly to let them know.

At this stage it is expected that all out-patient, in-patient and day surgery appointments will be cancelled.

Injury units will be closed, routine community nursing services and health centre nurse clinics will be cancelled.

Public day centres and day hospitals for older people or people with disabilities will close.

All planned admissions, including respite and rehabilitation, to public community nursing units and specified centres for people with intellectual disability will be cancelled.

Irish Independent

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