Public support for nurses
'Nurses and midwives would much rather be working than on the picket line but they have been forced out by the government,' said Tony Fitzpatrick, Director of Industrial Relations, IMNO as he visited striking nurses outside the Louth County Hospital last Tuesday.
If the amount of tooting and beeping by passing motorists was anything to go by, then the nurses have the support of the general public in their bid to get better pay and conditions.
'Our members have said enough is enough,' explained Tony, adding that they were resolute in their decision to hold out until their demands are met.
He said that unless pay and conditions are improved, the HSE won't be able to recruit and retain enough nurses to deliver bed capacity and Shared Care.
'We have 1,700 less nurses than in 2008 and that needs to be reversed.'
It was the first time in twenty years that nurses have staged a 24 hour strike, and Colette Vize, chairperson of the Dundalk branch of the INMO, said that the public support has been 'pheonomenal'.
'Motorists are tooting their support and a number of local shops have send food down,' she said.
She also voiced frustration that nurses had been left with no option but to take industrial action, saying that unless pay and conditions were improved, no young nurses would stay in the country.
She produces a newspaper clipping from 1999 which shows her at the picket line, carrying her baby son.
Now a 21 year old student at DkIT, he joined her on the picket line on the frosty Wednesday morning.
'Things haven't changed - if anything they are worse,' she said.
Other DkIT students on the picket line were the fourth year nursing students who have been working on the wards of the Louth County Hospital, getting paid the minimum wage.
They say that three-quarters of their year are considering working overseas once they qualify, with only mature students with families and ties planning to stay in Ireland.
It's not just the prospect of better pay which is enticing them abroad but a safer working environment.
'We want better conditions,' said Aine Maguire. 'I'm actually looking at a job aboard. The pay is only one thing. We want to be the best nurses we can but we can't do that with the staffing levels in Irish hospitals as basically we would be asked to do the work of three nurses.'
Elizabeth Martin Carroll said she too will probably emigrate. 'If things were to chance, if there was better pay and staffing levels, it would entice us to stay.'
They speak of how they have seen unsafe practices due to insufficient staff numbers during their time in hospitals and say they don't want to be part of that.
'We have spent four years training to get our 'pin' but if we're working in unsafe conditions we could lose it,' said Megan Clark.
'Staff are stressed and they are going out sick because of the pressure they are under,' said. Pamela Jones.
Further 24 hour strikes are taking place today (Tuesday) and Thursday, with a national rally planned for Dublin on Saturday. Strikes are also planned for February 12, 13 and 14, 19 and 21.
The strike is also being escalated as more services will be affected, with the provision of respite services for adults and those with intellectual disabilities being included in the dispute,