Public back the striking nurses

Over 250 nurses on picket line at University Hospital Kerry as strike spreads across the county

Simon Brouder

Striking nurses in Kerry say that they have been overwhelmed by the support they are receiving from the public as they down tools in search of better pay and conditions.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation's second  24-hour strike action began at 8am on Tuesday, with the main protest in Kerry taking place at University Hospital Kerry (UHK). 

Other large protests took place at community hospitals in Dingle, Kenmare and Cahersiveen, while INMO members were also on strike at Kerry respite centres and care homes for the elderly and the disabled. At UHK roughly 300 out-patient appointments have been cancelled over the two days of the INMO strike action.  

On Tuesday some 250 nurses were on the picket line at UHK, and as traffic passed along the busy road, many motorists were beeping their horns in support of the striking nurses. Many local businesses were also doing what they could to show their solidarity. 

Last Wednesday and again on Tuesday, many Tralee restaurants and cafés have delivered tea, coffee and sandwiches to the nurses who have braved appalling weather on both days of the strike. Many other restaurants in Tralee have also been offering free food and refreshments to all striking nurses. Kerry INMO representative Mary Power said the nurses had been "overwhelmed" by the public support.

"There were motorists beeping their horns all the time and lots of people were bringing coffee. One business even came along and set up a trestle table full of teas and coffees which was very kind," she said. "People have been giving us very serious support," said Ms Power.

"There has been a very big turnout in Kerry even in the hail and rain. But this is not a place that any of us want to be," she said. While most health services were impacted, vital services were still operational. UHK's Emergency Department remained open, though, with a significantly reduced staff. 

INMO members were available to deal with emergency situations, and on several occassions nurses left the picket line to assist with emergency cases. Ms Power said the hospital was "very full" on Wednesday and that there were 14 patients on trolleys in the Emergency Department at lunchtime on Wednesday.

Though many patients have had appointments and procedures cancelled, there is still widespread support for the striking health workers. A national poll by iReach found that a massive 64 per cent of the public back the nurses.  

Meanwhile, with no end to the nursing strike in sight, the industrial strife in the health service was due to worsen on Wednesday with GPs - including several from Kerry - set to join the INMO and Psychiatric Nurses Association and launch their own action with a march on the Dáil.