Thursday, 7 February 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
First, in respect of Deputy Doherty's first question, we are not there yet. Clearly, we are not there yet. As he has identified, with great eloquence, the risks are escalating. We understand that. That is why there is such significant contingency planning going on between the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation and the HSE. I am fully with Deputy Doherty and aware of that with regard to the risks that are escalating.
Second, I am here today as an Independent Minister because I am part of the Government and it is my responsibility to answer some of these questions as well. In my view, we need something to shift to bring the people to the table. That is what needs to happen. On what basis do I say that? First, there is reasonableness on both sides. There is reasonableness, as Deputy Doherty eloquently set out. I have spoken to nurses as well about their concerns. The issue of the safety of their patients is primary to them. Their understanding is that they need the issue of pay addressed to address the issue of safety effectively. That is what they are saying to us. On the other side, including the Government of which I am a part, there is reasonableness as well. When I came in I was listening to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, identifying issues relative to pay, the collective pay agreement and all of the other aspects of that. These are reasonable for us as the Government to lay out. We have reason on this side and we have reason on that side.
At the same time, we need something to shift to bring the parties together to begin to have that conversation. Deputy Doherty asks whether it has to do with pay. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, has laid out clearly an understanding of that in terms of the current agreement as well as the future agreement, and pay is part of that. No doubt that will be part of those discussions in terms of the safety and conditions that are required. How that is discussed and what is decided will be determined once they get to the table. This is the most important thing that needs to happen. The talking needs to begin. We require significant engagement and genuine and real intensification to find what the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, referred to as innovative solutions. In my view, and I imagine Deputy Doherty shares it, before the significant intensification and the potential disruption that will happen next week, we need something to shift to get intensification in terms of engagement. This requires the support of the INMO as well as ICTU and the wider union movement.