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Taoiseach admits it was 'discourteous' to offer engagement with nurses' unions by press release

Micheál Martin said the Taoiseach cannot solve industrial relations disputes ‘with such cynical PR manoeuvres’.

Image: Sam Boal

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has admitted that it was “discourteous” to offer to engage with the nurses’ unions at the Work Relations Commission (WRC) through a press release that was issued last night. 

Yesterday evening, the ministers for health and finance and public expenditure issued a joint press released noting their “disappointment” that further strike action by the INMO is going ahead today and Thursday.

The statement said the government has always listened to the concerns expressed by nurses in relation to working conditions and job satisfaction as well as the patient experience, with the ministers committing to immediate engagement with the unions

The ministers said the Workplace Relations Commission remain available to facilitate such talks. 

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin slammed the Taoiseach during Leaders’ Questions for the handling of the nurses’ strike, stating that some 50,000 patients have had their elective procedures cancelled.

He said interventions by Ministers Paschal Donohoe and Simon Harris “at the 11th hour has only served to compound the problem, make it worse, and escalate it”.

Via press release

“The proposals concern staff shortages, undergraduate education, future nursing needs and so on, but it was sent out via press release without any engagement with the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO or the PNA…

“The INMO’s director, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, described it as the most cynical move she had seen in a long time. The unions have rejected it as government spin and found it massively disrespectful to the nurses and to patients,” said Martin.

He said the Taoiseach cannot solve industrial relations disputes “with such cynical PR manoeuvres”.

Martin added that such an approach holds optics to be more important than substance, and will not cut it when it comes to an industrial dispute of this gravity and scale.

“Meaningful steps are required to be taken. Substance must replace spin in the resolution of this dispute. Being seen to do something by rushing out a press release is not the approach,” said the Fianna Fáil leader.

The Taoiseach said he “appreciated that the nurses’ unions felt that the offer to engage in further talks at the WRC was discourteous as they heard it through a press release rather than through a letter or direct contact”.

“We will make sure that does not recur,” he added.

He then pointed out that tens of thousands of people found out through the media that their respite was being cancelled this week and that their day care was being cancelled, too.

The government is “happy” and ready to engage through the Workplace Relations Commission or the Labour Court, should it decide to intervene, said Varadkar.

“We will do all that we can once this dispute is resolved to catch up on the lost work,” he said, but added that the government could not borrow money to pay the nurses and would not offer the nurses a special deal outside the pay agreement.

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