Thursday, 31 January 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
"Nursing is becoming a passport", "Who will look after us when we get old?", and "How come they can pay bondholders, but not nurses?", are three comments that nurses made to me yesterday. There were recurring themes on the dozens of picket lines visited by myself and my Socialist Party colleagues. We heard of nurses that have no time to talk to patients, which is a fundamental of being a nurse; their feelings of guilt when their 13-hour shifts end; three midwives looking after 23 mothers and their babies on a ward; and trolley beds on wards, which is the overflow from emergency departments. Hospital wards have frankly become dangerous due to ongoing deterioration in the nurse-to-patient ratio. Are we to wait years before this Government recognises there is a crisis in nursing, just like we had to wait with the housing crisis?
Let us be clear. This crisis applies only to the public health system. There were no pickets at private hospitals yesterday because they do not have to adhere to pay agreements. They pay inducements to recruit and retain their nurses. This is about patients and the public health system but it is also about pay. They may have been portrayed as angels over the years, but nurses do not have gossamer wings when the landlord comes looking for the rent. We hear of nurses getting up at 4.30 a.m. because they cannot afford to live in Dublin; nurses for whom mortgages are a thing of the past; and nurses who have been eating beans for the last week up to payday. As one nurse in Connolly hospital said, this is about long-standing abuse of women workers. We hear about the gender pay gap. This is the gender pay gap in action, perpetrated by our own Government.
Does the Tánaiste agree that a society that cannot afford to pay nurses is a sad society we should not tolerate? I note the editorial in The Times Ireland edition urging the Government not to pay nurses. That is how billionaires like Mr. Rupert Murdoch and the establishment feel. They think we do not need a society, just like Margaret Thatcher said. What we saw yesterday was the most powerful display of worker solidarity. Fire-fighters, prison officers and patients visited picket lines.
There was a conveyor belt of pizzas, cakes, donuts and coffee of all kinds because there is an innate solidarity among workers. The Tánaiste's attempt, and the attempt of others, to divide and conquer workers by pitting them against each other will fail. I note the mealy-mouthed words of the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil. I have not heard Labour say “pay the nurses” like a labour party is meant to do because it is reticent about that. One would think that the most dangerous thing-----