Hospitals in Ireland came to a standstill in late October when the country’s 28,000 nurses started strike action over a long-running pay dispute. Despite last minute talks between union representatives and the government, the industrial action went ahead as scheduled, making it the first time in the history of the State that nurses had gone on strike. A spokeswoman for the Irish Nursing Organization said on an Irish radio program that the strike would continue for as long as it took the government to concede on pay demands.
Some hospitals throughout the country saw nursing coverage drop to as little as one-fifth of normal levels, and all hospitals advised patients with non-emergency cases to stay away. Local chapters of the nurses’ unions reached their own agreement with their area hospital about nursing coverage. Emergency coverage was provided, however, and most strike committees worked out emergency plans with employers.
One picketing nurse with a 30-year work record, interviewed outside Tullamore Hospital, told reporters that she never expected to find herself on strike. “It’s cold but at least it’s not raining,” she added. “Maybe it shows that the Lord does look down on us kindly in some way.”
Another striker, interviewed outside St. James’ Hospital in Dublin said: “We’re all worried about our patients. But at the end of the day we’re here for them as well, because if we aren’t able to care for them there will be nobody left to do that job.”
Representatives of the nursing unions say that pay increases granted to members of the profession in the past three years still leave nurses lagging well behind other health service professionals. The government, however, are apparently concerned that if they give way on nurses’ demands, other public sector workers — including teachers and gardai (police) — will follow suit and file claim for more pay. At press-time, there were indications that the State’s 40,000 teachers would consider recommending a review of current salaries. The president of the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland, Bernadine O’Sullivan, said: “Both nurses and teachers make valuable contributions to society.”