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Nurses extend strike action with two more stoppages this month

Decision means there will be seven 24-hour strikes this month as part of dispute over pay

INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha with Catherine Sheridan, (left), Eilish Fitzgerald and Dr Edward Mathews, INMO industrial relations director prior to the INMO meeting on Saturday Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has announced a major escalation in its dispute with the Government over pay.

The INMO will hold two extra days of strike action on February 19th and 21st to go along with the already-announced strikes on February 5th, 7th, 12th, 13th and 14th.

It will also escalate the number of nursing services on strike which will increase from 82 to 240. This will mean that respite services for people with intellectual disabilities and also the elderly will be taken into the dispute.

The announcement followed a meeting of the INMO executive in Dublin on Saturday.

INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha criticised the “threats and intransigence” in response to the pay demand by nurses from the Government.

INMO members from Connolly Hospital at the start of the first 24-hour strike on January 30th Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

“Nurses and midwives proudly stood up in defence of our patients and professions last Wednesday,” she said.

“Everybody – except the government – recognise that there is a serious understaffing problem in our health services. The public support for the strike on Wednesday showed that the Irish people stand with nurses and midwives.

“Our message is clear. We will not be going away. Resolving this dispute requires direct engagement from the government, recognising the real recruitment and retention problems in Irish nursing and midwifery.

“We simply want to be able to do our jobs, but our health service cannot hire enough nurses and midwives on these uncompetitive wages. As ever, we remain available for talks with the government for any realistic proposals.”

Minister for Health Simon Harris said he regrets the union's decision and said there “is an onus on both sides to engage in talks”. 

Little Government activity

More than 30,000 nurses from the INMO manned picket lines outside hospitals on Wednesday after talks aimed at resolving the issue failed.

Prior to the meeting on Saturday where the INMO decided to extend the strike, Ms Ní Sheaghdha said there had been little activity from the Government to resolve the dispute.

Nurses are seeking a pay rise of around €7,000 per annum, or the equivalent of 12 per cent, saying such an increase would bring nursing salaries into line with equivalent health professions, such as physiotherapists, and would also deal with recruitment and retention issues.

The Government has said any such pay rise would cost approximately €300 million every year and would lead to knock-on-claims from other public service employees.

It warned the State would have to borrow to fund pay increases of this level.

Ms Ní Sheaghdha criticised comments by Tánaiste Simon Coveney, that the Government was looking at sanctions to be used against striking nurses. She described them as an attempt to “deviate from the real problem, which is recruitment and retention”.

INMO general secretary Phil Ni Sheagh (centre): ‘Our message is clear. We will not be going away’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

She added: “The health service is in a crisis. We have a seen a massive overrun on the children’s hospital. I haven’t seen any penalties for those that are responsible for that.

“There seems to be a big emphasis on penalties for nurses and midwives who have been forced to take a stand to improve a health services that will be available for citizens of this country into the future.

On Thursday Mr Coveney said the Government was taking legal advice about their available options in response to the strikes. “We are taking legal advice about the options that are available to us consistent with the (public sector) pay agreement.

“There is a responsibility on the Government to deliver on that. “There is also responsibility on the unions and their leadership to fulfil on those obligations and that is what protects Ireland in terms of industrial peace.”