Gilmore sticks to the script over 'cut-price' nurses
DÁil SKETCH:Mee-ow! The usually mild-mannered Tánaiste became very catty with his former junior minister.
Eamon Gilmore had just been through a harrowing session on Leaders’ Questions, defending the new graduate employment scheme for nurses, which the Opposition call “yellow pack”.
So by the time his bête noire Róisín Shortall stood to ask questions about a couple of issues, he was evidently in no mood to go easy.
Labour TDs froze in their places, almost as if they were afraid to move or breathe for fear of what she might say.
Only Labour whip Emmet Stagg sat smirking, whispering a comment to Róisín’s constituency colleague John Lyons, who kept a straight face and said nothing.
One of her priorities as minister of state had been the development of an alcohol strategy. She said the Tánaiste had promised they would have this before Christmas. “When can we expect to see that,” she asked.
The strategy was being finalised and it was getting priority “but unfortunately there was not as much preparatory work done on the Bill as we had been led to believe” he said, his words dripping in vitriol.
There was a collective intake of breath and one Opposition TD murmured “Ouch”. Róisín smiled.
It was a verbal victory for the Tánaiste but also confirmation she is getting under his skin.
Then again it had been a tough morning. All three Opposition speakers had focused on the Government’s scheme to employ 1,000 nursing graduates at 80 per cent of the normal pay grade.
The Tánaiste repeatedly attempted to convince his opponents the move was creating 1,000 jobs. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who reminded everyone the Tánaiste had been a union official, said 1,000 agency nursing jobs would be lost, there had been no discussion with the unions and they were warning it would be a “game breaker” for the Croke Park negotiations. He then wanted the Tánaiste’s response to comments by Minister for Health James Reilly in a Sunday Business Post interview that nursing graduates could apply for the scheme, emigrate or work in a fast food outlet.
“Appalling intervention”, cried Micheál who described the Minister as “characteristically dismissive and arrogant” and asked if the Tánaiste agreed.
He avoided that one and stuck to a mantra he repeated to each Opposition speaker. “This is about new jobs. There are many people in this country who are out of work,” he said to guffaws of disbelief. “Yellow pack, cheap labour,” hissed Socialist TD Joe Higgins.
The Tánaiste stared him out and the other hecklers stilled. “These 1,000 posts for graduate nurses are additional jobs,” he insisted.
It was a mantra he repeated to Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, who said “it’s not a scheme, it’s a scam”. Let’s not play games she said, noting the €22,000 pay in Ireland and the salaries of £33,000 in Britain and €40,000 or more further afield.
And putting the verbal boot in, she talked about the contrast with the Tánaiste’s pay packet and that of many others in the public service.
“Including yours,” shouted a Government backbencher.
Independent TD Mattie McGrath had been carefully watching the Labour leader and told him: “I know by your body language, Tánaiste, that your heart is not in the replies you’re giving here today.” The South Tipperary TD, who claimed fewer than 35 had applied for the 1,000 jobs,said “somebody called it a scam, but I would call it a sham”.