Thursday, 7 February 2019
Nurses and Midwives Industrial Action: Statements
I have been a trade union activist all of my working life. I was a member of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, the Federation of Rural Workers, the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union and the Irish Local Government Officials Union, now called Fórsa. I have represented that union at national level and been president of the Clonmel Trades and Labour Council. I have been on the picket line with nurses at South Tipperary General Hospital and Nenagh General Hospital in the past two weeks. I fully support their claims and believe the industrial action they are taking is fully justified. It is about fair pay and conditions of employment, but it is also about safe staffing levels, the safety of patients and the provision of a quality health service.
The Government spin against the nurses is shameful. Everybody in this House, including the Minister, knows that the health service is in a shambles. They know that patient safety is at risk every day. Cancellations occur every day of the year. A colleague of mine had his cardiac bypass surgery cancelled on two occasions. Having worked 21 years at South Tipperary General Hospital, I know the pressure nurses and staff are under. The hospital works at 125% capacity, when normal capacity should be in the region of 85%. It has one of the highest trolley counts in the country. Mental health services are understaffed and under-resourced. The acute inpatient service is non-existent, having been closed by Fine Gael and the Labour Party in the last Government. The pay agreement cited by the Government does not represent a pay increase. It is a pay restoration agreement which does not even fully restore pay to the previous levels. I believe public representatives should support the nurses. One thing we can do is call on all of our supporters to be at the Garden of Remembrance next Saturday at 12.30 p.m. to support the demonstration called by the nurses.
I believe nurses are fighting a battle to establish and restore a civilised society in Ireland. They are fighting to ensure all Irish people will have adequate and effective healthcare. More than that, they are fighting for priority to be given to caring human values over the greed of the super-rich. It is the greed of the super-rich and the feeding of that greed which are the driving principles of the Government, not just its Fine Gael component. The Taoiseach told us that the Government would have to borrow money to meet the claims of the nurses. That statement is shamefully and demonstrably untrue. Anybody who doubts it might read the 2019 report of Social Justice Ireland which was published recently. The Government states meeting the nurses' claims would cost €300 million per year. The unions dispute this and point out that many of the resources required could be found by reducing the dependence on agency nursing. Even if the Government's claim was correct, the amount of money is minuscule compared to the untaxed, massive and growing wealth of the Irish super rich. The Minister and the Government need to make the super rich pay their fair share of taxation. There is massive wealth in the country and a disproportionate share is owned by the super rich. According to the Central Statistics Office, there are 25,700 individuals who earn between €200,000 and €2 million per year. In the last budget not only were no additional taxes placed on them but the Minister for Finance gave them tax relief, as he had done in the previous two budgets. The money is available to resolve the dispute. The Government simply has to address the very wealthy people who have billions of euro above the peak boom levels in 2007 and 2008. The Minister should resolve the dispute by acceding to the requests of the nurses. The Government should resign and allow the people to make a decision on what will happen in the future.