Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has shrugged off the anger of healthcare workers who worked over Christmas by highlighting his own carefully staged visits to hospitals.
hen asked if he regretted comments about healthcare staff taking time off, he risked further angering workers by speaking about his own photo- op visits to Cork University Hospital (CUH) and to Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin.
"I appreciate that a lot of people have been working very hard in the health service across the Christmas period, I was there myself in the emergency department in CUH on Christmas Day," he told the Irish Independent.
"And I was in Crumlin as well on Christmas Eve, so I have no doubt that a huge number of people were working very hard."
He was speaking after a briefing by senior HSE management about the winter plan at the HSE Acute Hospitals Division in Heuston South Quarter, Dublin.
The Taoiseach drew the ire of health workers when he told the Dáil it was time hospitals operated "at full whack" over the Christmas holiday period.
He warned consultants and nurses must not take holidays in the first fortnight in January.
Hundreds of healthcare professionals posted messages on Twitter on Christmas Day, sharing photos of themselves with the hashtag "#ImAtWorkLeo".
Journalist Graham Clifford posted an image of his wife. He wrote: "So here's my wife Catherine - a local GP who is working today as well as most of the Christmas and New Year.
"We have 4 young children, the smallest just 1-year-old who won't see much of her. But she gets on with it, working hard and doing her best like so many others."
Another healthcare worker wrote: "Three 24 hour shifts in 6 days and 2 in the last three. It cool if I take a day or two off to celebrate Christmas with my fam @campaignforleo."
"Just leaving the Mater after a 12-hour shift working alongside many nurses, HCAs, other NCHDs, consultants, porters, lab staff, catering staff, radiographers... the list goes on," wrote doctor and international footballer Dora Gorman.
Meanwhile, the Government is facing serious unrest in the health sector as the trade union Siptu announced it was balloting around 7,000 healthcare assistants on industrial action.
The union has claimed the Government has failed to grant pay raises to support staff, even after an evaluation report found their roles required increased skills and responsibilities. Siptu has accused the Government of breaking the public sector pay agreement.
Among those workers who fall within the grade are healthcare assistants, laboratory aids, maternity assistants and surgical instrument technicians.
Mr Vardakar said yesterday: "I don't think anyone would like to see any strike action happen across the health service because ultimately patients will lost out."
He said there was a pay deal in place for public servants.
"The Government will honour that pay deal. It was only made earlier this year and it runs up to 2020," he said.
"That involves pay restoration next year, increments for most public servants, up to two pay increases and also a special deal for new entrants costing hundreds of millions of euro.
"As [Finance Minister] Paschal Donohoe often says - and rightly says - there only is a certain amount of money."