Harris declines to be drawn on penalties for striking nurses

Government will ‘legally consider’ issue of sanctions for INMO members in coming days

January 30th, 2019: A 24-hour strike by nearly 40,000 nurses and midwives belonging to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation is taking place nationwide. A further five 24-hour strikes have been scheduled over the coming fortnight. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

Minister for Health Simon Harris has declined to be drawn on the issue of applying financial penalties on nurses for going on strike.

He said the Government’s priority was to engage with nurses to find a resolution to the current dispute over pay and staffing issues within the confines of the current public service agreement.

Mr Harris said he wanted to find a resolution to the strike and did not want to be upping the ante by talking about financial sanctions.

“I do not want to be in that space today. The Government is not in that space today”, he said.

Mr Harris said the Department of Public Expenditure would “legally consider” the issue of applying sanctions on members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) in the coming days and weeks.

Under legislation the Government can put in place financial sanctions such as a freeze on increments and delays in securing pay rises on members of organizations considered to be outside of the current public service agreement.

He said under the accord, unions which secured benefits from its provisions in return could not lodge cost-increasing claims while it was in place.

Me Harris said nurses seeking pay parity with other groups at a cost of €300 million was “by any court a cost-rising claim”.

A no-deal Brexit was a real and daunting risk for the country.

He said the idea , weeks out from a potential no-deal Brexit , “of taking any action that would undermine the public service agreement would be grossly irresponsible”.

Mr Harris maintained any payments to nurses outside the terms of the current agreement would lead to other groups of State employees also seeking similar increases.

The Government was honouring its side of the public service agreement and expected unions to do the same, he said.