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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 20 Oct 1999

Vol. 509 No. 5

Private Members' Business. - Nurses Dispute: Motion.

The following motion was moved by Deputy McManus on Tuesday, 19 October 1999:
That Dáil Éireann censures the Minister for Health and Children for his failure to take appropriate action to secure a solution to the nurses dispute and avert a national nursing strike; notes the belated invitation issued by the Minister to the unions to preliminary talks; and, having regard to the serious hardship being created for patients and others dependent on the health services and the potentially catastrophic implications for the health services of a prolonged dispute, urges the Minister to instruct the health service employers to enter into immediate negotiations with the Nursing Alliance with a view to concluding an agreement capable of addressing the legitimate grievances of the nurses.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:
"Dáil Éireann endorses the efforts being made by the Minister for Health and Chil dren to bring about a resolution of the nurses' strike by a process through which nursing issues can be addressed within the parameters of social partnership.".
–(Minister for Health and Children.)

I am sharing my time with Deputies Perry and Cosgrave.

It is with reluctance and shame that we must again plead with the Minister for Health and Children and his Ministers of State to take action. They have sat idly by for the past three weeks and done nothing, hoping to turn the tide of opinion against the nursing profession. They have failed to do that and well beyond the twelfth hour they have dillied and dallied, playing for time and hoping the nurses will cave in and go back to work. The Minister has failed to understand the resolute determination of the nursing profession that has provided care for the people through the centuries. The Government has turned its back on the nurses. Ministers Cowen and McCreevy have insulted them over the past three weeks. They have spoken down to them and at them rather than to them. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Cowen, has failed the nursing profession. He has failed the old, sick and handicapped. He has insulted so many people in this debacle. He has dismantled the health services and lengthened the waiting lists, leaving people suffering and in pain.

Does the Minister intend to continue this cruel assault on this section of the population who live in fear of being stricken with an emergency? Does he wish to deny the nursing profession its entitlement to a just wage for the services it provides? Will he allow young nurses to leave this country next week, as they are bound to do, and at the same time see other young emigrants return home? Has he any consideration for what the country and particularly the elderly are suffering? This is discrimination at its worst. I hope the Minister and Minister of State will stand aside from the ministries they now hold and let others come in with new determination to rectify the matter. It is unbelievable in this day and age that we allow and expect a nurse to work on a Saturday for £8 additional pay. Would the Minister accept such remuneration?

There are ways to resolve this dispute. Because of the urgency of the matter I hope the Minister will take it in hand, even at this late stage, and show that care will be provided. Someone should get hold of the two Ministers who are holding fast in a bullish way to deny the nursing profession adequate and reasonable remuneration for their efforts and the care they provide. No further time should be lost in ensuring a reasonable settlement is provided.

After 80 years of service the Irish Nursing Organisation must be very disappointed because the Government has failed to address in an adequate and appropriate manner the three pay related recommendations specified by the Commission on Nursing in September. It failed to address the need to give improved recognition for long service at staff nurse grade. The proposal in regard to the allowance is too narrow in scope to fully acknowledge the skills accruing to further, specialist and post-graduate qualifications, for example, public health nurses and those with additional qualifications in psychiatry and mental handicap.

The proposals for improved recognition for all promotional grades fall short of that required to fully recognise and reward the changing roles and increased level of responsibility which will accrue to those grades now and in the years ahead. For example, the proposal in regard to nurse teachers and senior nurse managers would result in the demise of nurse teachers within the profession and the downgrading of the role and influence of nurse managers at both hospital and community care level.

The decision to strike was not taken lightly. It is to protect the interests of nurses and nursing now and in the future. With the acknowledged crisis in recruitment and the continuing retention of nurses, it is essential to take this stance and so ensure a quality nursing service endures to serve our health needs. I received a fax within the past half an hour from the Sligo General Hospital strike committee which it wishes me to read into the record. It states:

(a) We want the Government to know and acknowledge that nurses are emotionally involved both with ill patients and illness within their own families.

(b) Escalation is under discussion.

(c) What are the Government's plans to remove this threat?

(d) We believe this is the health service of the future and are very disappointed in it.

The talk among young newly qualified nurses is that they will emigrate at the earliest opportunity.

After 80 years of service, on October 19, the entire nursing staff went on strike leaving hospitals operating with an emergency service only. It was the first full scale national strike by nurses. An accumulation of years of festering discontent among health service workers meant that, in the end, the decision to strike was overwhelming. The Government, on the other hand, argued that nurses had stepped outside the normal pay dispute procedures and their hands are tied. The level of service, dedication and commitment given by the nursing profession over the years has been remarkable. It is regrettable that, at this time of buoyancy in the economy, highly qualified nurses are waving placards outside hospitals.

The level of public concern mounts at the prospect of this strike continuing. The duties performed by nurses are such as to have gained the respect and admiration of their fellow citizens. In recent times, we have witnessed the enhancement of the core skills and the increase in the level of responsibility which are undertaken on a daily basis by the members of this caring profession. Constant change in the technology and in the management of health care is such as to require ongoing training and upgrading of various special skills to enable them to provide the best care and nursing support skill suitable to the needs of a modern health service.

It is right that nurses believe their skills are not properly acknowledged and that they consider themselves inadequately rewarded, taking account of their training, skill and capacity to do the job. The health service cannot afford this strike. Waiting lists for hospital inpatient treatment are already too large. It is inadequately addressed with too few resources applied to significantly reduce the burden which affects patients and medical care professionals, such as nurses, while also impacting on all engaged in the work within hospitals. The stress of inadequate staff and bed facilities make a physical and emotional job more difficult than it needs to be. These factors, which are within the control of the Minister for Health and Children, appear to have escaped both his and his fellow Government members.

The Minister's performance in dealing with this sensitive issue shows his capacity to disregard the nurses' feelings or pay any respect to their just cause. Rather his behaviour is such as to be reminiscent of a well-fed, short trousered schoolboy terrorising his school yard colleagues as he smashes his way to victory, as he wields his conkers with no regard for the damage he will cause. Damage this Minister will do without cause unless he is prepared to stop his condescending, confrontational ways. The health service, which is overworked, understaffed and inadequately resourced, urgently needs a leader who can see the bigger picture, understands the opportunities and constraints and can take a position that promotes confidence and understanding.

The country cannot afford this strike within this vital service. It will cause further chaos in the waiting lists, which are too long, and cause sour industrial relations to linger within our hospitals for years.

I wish to share time with the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Tom Kitt, and Deputies Batt O'Keeffe, Hanafin, Conor Lenihan and Eoin Ryan.

I support the amendment in the name of the Minister for Health and Children. As Deputy Cowen stated last night, this is a complex and difficult dispute. The Government is not seeking to face anyone down or to deny any group, particularly one such as the nurses who deserve recognition for the major contribution they have made to our society. We are, however, insisting on seeking to protect the principle of the partnership agreements which have achieved so much in recent years.

There is no doubt that for many years the nursing profession did not receive the attention it deserved. Significant improvements in the position of nurses have clearly been warranted, as a special case, and a comprehensive approach has been required in respect of the issue of concern to the profession and to the health sector as a whole. It is because the Government recognises this that we have been willing to go as far as we have in agreeing to the wide range of improvements which have been implemented or offered in the past two years.

The Minister for Health and Children outlined to the House the Government's absolute commitment to the Commission on Nursing, the report of which involves some 200 recommendations and sets out a comprehensive agenda for the development of the profession. Since the publication of the commission's report 13 months ago, significant progress has been made across a wide range of areas. Each of these developments has been helping to forward a progressive and ambitious programme for the nursing profession. The Minister for Health and Children has reiterated to the House that he intends to press on with this programme and is seeking agreement on the identification of priorities and implementation strategies. This is the only way of tackling as expansive an agenda as that set out by the commission.

On the basis of the Government's commitment to fully meet the costly recommendations of the Labour Court and the Minister's funding for various professional development measures, we have clearly demonstrated that we are willing to put major funding behind our commitment to the nursing profession. However, we must work on the basis of protecting the policies which have enabled us to provide such a major allocation toward improving the position of such a major profession.

There are those who have taken to publicly challenging the role of partnership agreements and have suggested that they have done nothing for ordinary people. This is absolute nonsense. Partnership is not some abstract economic idea which has no relevance to the real world, it has delivered in a major way for our society. Because of partnership, there are fewer unemployed people, the incomes of all groups have expanded beyond the cost of living, taxes are down for all groups and our social services have been greatly improved. In the area for which I have responsibility, among many other improvements, classes have become smaller, programmes are more responsive and funding has been increased dramatically.

Partnership has also delivered for our health services. The expanded funding which has been put in place during the past two years has made a great difference. The physical infrastructure of hospitals throughout the country is being transformed by the largest capital investment pro gramme in the history of the health services. There are thousands of additional people working to deliver health services and previously excluded groups, such as people with disabilities, have seen a dramatic expansion in targeted services. This is not to say, however, that everything which needs to be done has been done. This is clearly not the case. However, it is equally clear that the only basis upon which we can guarantee investment needs, not just now but in the long-term, is if we continue in the way in which the partnership process has delivered.

If we casually disregard the obvious effects of overturning the sound policies which have brought us to our current position, we will undermine our international competitiveness and we will suffer. The result will be reduced employment, weaker public services and lower standards of living in the long-term. Public sector pay requires a new approach along the lines outlined by the Taoiseach last month. Traditional relativities lead to an inflexible approach which bears little or no relation to performance. An imaginative approach which recognises performance and genuine reform is what is needed.

Sunday's statement by the Nursing Alliance recognising the fact that the Government has to be concerned with operating within the context of the partnership process was welcome. The Minister for Health and Children has responded positively and has been working hard to find a process to deal with the issues raised by nurses which would facilitate the maintenance of social partnership in the future. The positive role of the ICTU in working to find a solution is also welcome. We trust that the talks currently under way will bring about such a solution.

The Minister for Health and Children has clearly demonstrated the good faith and the commitment of the Government in terms of investing in the future of the nursing profession and the health service as a whole. He is not being confrontational, despite attempts to stereotype him or subject him to the type of personal invective we witnessed earlier. That is not fair and it does not fit the bill. The Minister is committed to resolving this issue in the correct context by using the correct process. He has the full support of the Government in that regard. We will continue to do everything in our power to bring this dispute to an end as quickly as possible.

As Minister of State with responsibility for labour affairs, I have been involved in a number of difficult disputes and I recognise that the nurses' dispute is the most difficult industrial dispute we have faced in a number of years. The Government's view, as the Taoiseach has pointed out, is that a way forward must be found which does not undermine our commitment to social partnership. I accept that this point has been made on a number of occasions but it is important to re-empha sise it. We support an imaginative approach to public service pay and structures within which the legitimate aims and aspirations of public servants, including nurses, can best be met.

It must be acknowledged that the nurses' dispute cannot be resolved in isolation from the wider public sector pay implications. Neither can the existing social partnership agreement be torn up and disregarded. On this basis, there is a whole range of possibilities opened up for nurses to pursue their legitimate agenda. Underlying the Government's approach is the concept that existing social partnership agreements must be honoured by all and the primacy of the Labour Court as a means of settling disputes must be upheld.

I am pleased that the Nursing Alliance indicated, when meeting the Minister for Health and Children on Monday, that it is anxious not to undermine the Labour Court's role. In addition, it recognised the importance of ensuring that existing partnership agreements are not jeopardised. As Minister of State with responsibility for labour affairs, I know how critical is the role of the Labour Court to the successful operation of our dispute settling procedures. This system is based on a voluntary and consensus approach by both employers and workers. Ignoring the existence of the Labour Court is not part of the solution to this dispute.

In a sense this dispute is a test for the social partnership agreements which have served this country so well in the past 12 years. Again, as Minister of State with responsibility for labour affairs, I am conscious of the many valuable jobs provided for our young population as a result of this social partnership. If the social partnership model is to work effectively in the future, it must be capable of facilitating a speedy resolution of this dispute. Its integrity must be preserved by ensuring that existing agreements are honoured. This requires trust by all sides and I am sure that, in the overall framework of social partnership, a process can be devised which satisfies the needs of all parties.

While much of the commentary on the nurses dispute is focused on the pay issue, let us not forget that the Commission on Nursing's report contained more than 200 recommendations, of which only three related to pay. It is clear that the commission's report will feature in any process that will be put in place to resolve this dispute. In that context, the Government has already indicated its full commitment to the implementation of the commission's recommendations. These are designed to tackle the underlying problems within the nursing profession and to develop nursing as a key profession within the health service. The commission's report provided a significant framework for getting to grips with the more fundamental problems of nursing which need to be addressed. It outlined approaches for improving the way nurses are managed, for involving them in decision making, for giving them new career pathways, and for empowering them generally. Real and substantial progress has been made during the past year in addressing and implementing the central recommendations of the commission. It is worth noting that half the ordinary members of the commission came from the nursing profession.

Issues advanced in the past year include: the establishment of a nursing education forum; the funding of nursing and midwifery planning and development units in each health board area; the enhancement of nursing input in Department of Health and Children policy development, by increasing the number of nurses directly involved in such activities from four to nine; the greater involvement of nurses in the management of the health service; the transfer to An Bord Altranais of responsibility for the management of pre-registration nursing and the promotion of nursing as a career; and the development of clinical career pathways which will allow staff nurses, in particular, an opportunity to progress up the promotional ladder.

While it has been overshadowed by the problems associated with the pay related recommendations, clearly, considerable progress has been made in a difficult industrial relations situation in implementing many of the commission's recommendations. In short, the commission's report is about developing the role of nurses and giving concrete expression to the recognition of that role. The Government strongly supports these objectives. I am concerned that in the context of social partnership, a process be found quickly for dealing with the issues raised by nurses in this dispute. This must be done in a way which is consistent with the existing social partnership agreement and which does not undermine the continuance of social partnership in the future. I am convinced from my contacts with the social partners over the past week that they share this analysis and are working with Government towards finding such a solution.

I welcome the indications from the Nursing Alliance that they too are willing to work to achieve this and I know from my experience as Minister of State with responsibility for labour affairs that all industrial disputes are resolved eventually. This may sound basic but it is the reality. I have been involved in a number of high-profile and difficult disputes that went on far too long. I welcome the central role being played by the ICTU in the discussions which have been taking place in the last few hours. I urge all concerned in this dispute to continue to work, in the spirit of partnership, to find the inevitable solution without further delay. Such delay can only result in more suffering for those who must do without the care and attention for which our nurses are justly highly regarded.

We are all agreed that nobody wants this nurses' strike. The public do not want it, neither the Government nor the Opposition want it and the nurses certainly do not want it. The strike will cause hardship for many people, not least the nurses who are on the picket line. While it is very unusual to see anyone on a picket line these days, it is rare to see nurses there, who are probably the most highly regarded and respected profession in the country. It is not too long, however, since strikes were an everyday occurrence. That was a time when incomes were low, taxes and inflation were high, the present was black and the future was bleak. When a strike occurred in those days one had an offer on the table, a demand came from the other side of the table, negotiations took place and often the two sides split the difference. This strike is not like that and these times are not like those times. In the past ten years social partnership has changed the atmosphere to ensure that all of us can benefit from economic success.

The nurses' strike is unusual in that nobody is saying "no". The nurses have made demands in recent years. When those demands were met by awards of the Labour Court or other bodies, the Government said "yes". There is no bargaining involved in this strike. All that is needed is a process by which the Government can sit with the nurses and fulfil their demands. The Government is willing to do this. There is a willingness to recognise that nursing and midwifery needs to develop as a key profession within the health service. All of this has been outlined by the Commission on Nursing. The 202 recommendations of the commission are crucial to the future of the nursing profession. It is unfortunate that we have become bogged down in the three elements which relate to pay but the Government is committed to implementing the other 199 recommendations and has already spent money on that.

Nurses deserve recognition for their work and all the pay awards that have been made to them. They deserve incremental recognition, formal education programmes and degrees and they deserve to be involved in management. However, the country deserves a process which will ensure that these demands and needs can be met while ensuring that social partnership is maintained.

During the next few weeks we hope the social partners will agree a new partnership. It is in that context that we must find a settlement. I watched the ICTU representatives this evening when they were about to begin negotiations with the Government. They said they will not leave until a process has been found. Neither will the Government leave because despite what the Opposition claims, this is not a case of a schoolboy talking to the schoolgirls. This issue is not anti-woman. It is a question of social partners coming together to agree how to meet the demands of the nurses. There is a recognition of their real needs and a real desire to find a process by which they can be accommodated.

We must address this issue from the point of view of partnership. What is partnership and what is a partnership approach? Patient care involves many skills and requires team spirit and a team approach. The patient, who is the first person to be cared for must be the centre of the team's attention. Whether in industrial relations or in a hospital, partnership is important. It is in everybody's interest that a partnership approach continues.

We all agree that nurses' contribution to patient care has been enormous. It is a matter of great regret to all of us that this dispute has come to a head. It is particularly disappointing that so many of the recommendations in the report of the Commission on Nursing were not debated and were not dealt with by negotiation. Because the three pay elements of the report have been isolated, many of the other recommendations which would have enhanced the stature of the nursing profession have been ignored. The nurses' representatives have said that nurses want to be appreciated and made a part of the system. Within the report is the basis for that recognition and status. This is what we would all like to see and the Government is committed to this. We should look at all of the 202 recommendations rather than concentrate on the three which refer to pay.

We are all disappointed by the negotiating stance which has been taken by the nursing unions. The Government is faced with a difficulty with regard to partnership. There is an agreement with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and industrial relations mechanisms have been put in place. A union has referred three recommendations to the Labour Court, which it has a right to do, and the decision of the Labour Court must be accepted.

The Deputy should get his facts right.

That is untrue. The recommendation need not be accepted.

This difficulty is now accepted by the nursing unions. Because of Partnership 2000, there is a major problem for other unions within Congress. ICTU should talk to the nursing unions. The Government will talk to the employers and try to reach some measure of agreement within the parameters of Partnership 2000 whereby this dispute can be brought to a logical and meaningful conclusion.

Why did the Government wait until last week to do that?

At the end of the day all of us want to ensure that there is a resolution to this problem and the nurses get what they deserve because the skill and care of those involved in the profession is recognised.

The Minister would not meet anybody until last Monday.

However, everybody also realises that the Government has a difficulty because there is an arrangement in place. If the gap can be bridged two months into the next national pay agreement, then a fair resolution and a satisfactory result will have been achieved, which would be in the best interests of nurses in the long-term.

I hope the Deputy votes in favour of the Labour Party motion if he believes that.

The Opposition recommends that it is wise to reject a Labour Court recommendation.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): It is a right.

That is the nurses' right.

The Deputy is incorrect.

Perhaps the Opposition is correct. It is legally open to a profession such as nursing to reject a Labour Court recommendation.

That is big of the Deputy.

The question is whether it is wise to do so and I believe it is not.

Shame on the Deputy.

The nurses have embarked on a course that is foolish and against the interest of the nation and the development of their profession. I do not say that lightly because if an opinion poll were conducted tomorrow, it would be clear that public sympathy was with the nurses but this sympathy is qualified, untrammelled and does not acknowledge the other societal pressures that exist in the economy.

The benefits that have accrued from partnership must be borne in mind. The partnership process is supported by all sides of the House and has been significantly developed even by Fine Gael, which initially opposed the process when in Opposition just as it opposed the peace process.

That is outrageous.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): What about the battle of Clontarf, 1014?

However, more benign factors came into play when it entered Government and it realised the benefits of partnership.

Does the Deputy recall the Anglo-Irish Agreement?

The public is sympathetic to the nurses because they are at the receiving end of all the problems and difficulties that exist in our health services. I am lucky that I have never been hospitalised.

That is just as well. The Deputy should not fall sick this week.

A number of members of my family have fallen ill and I have great admiration for the nursing profession, as does everybody else. However, it is important to underline that this is not just an issue about nurses but the wider partnership process and whether it is desirable to continue with it. It would be wise to negotiate a new national pay deal and within its confines nurses will get the justice that they richly deserve in terms of pay and conditions.

The Government has adopted a developmental approach to the nursing profession by setting out clear objectives. It wants to upgrade the profession, introduce degree status and create extra grades, as was recommended in the report of the Commission on Nursing.

I am surprised the Department of Health and Children gave the Deputy that script.

Government members have mentioned that the focus of this dispute has been the three pay recommendations to the detriment of 197 others in that report. Public sympathy for nurses must be countered with the undesirability of failing to resolve this dispute. It is important that it should be resolved because it has implications for partnership and patient care and this must be at the heart of the approach of the Government, Opposition and the nursing profession.

Focus must be put on patient care at every level of our health services and nurses do that work. There is a danger that patient care might suffer. Nurses have a responsibility in this regard and they will rise to that challenge. The LRC document should be looked at again as it suggested that there should be no strike deals for all the essential services – I do not suggest this as Government policy. If this were pursued it could lead to even greater pay rewards for the nursing profession and others who provide essential services. That should be examined in the long-term so that continuity of service can be guaranteed.

Everybody recognises that this is a difficult and complex strike, to which there is no easy answer. All of us regret that nurses have taken industrial action and the nurses themselves are not happy about it as one can tell from their interviews on radio and television. However, the Minister and Government also regret that they took this action because it is not the way forward. The way forward is through negotiation and to discuss—

Why has there been no negotiation for the past four weeks?

Why did the Minister for Health and Children not negotiate?

Because the goalposts were moving daily.

That should not stop him talking.

There have been no negotiations since 22 September.

There is a partnership agreement and industrial relations have been dealt with under that over recent years. Deputy Rabbitte referred to this.

Look at where we are now.

We have a very successful economy because hard decisions were made. Deputy McManus and her party did everything to stop those decisions being made.

Stop the closing of 22 hospitals when Charles Haughey had plenty of money.

That Government sacked 5,000 people.

When Deputy McManus was in another political party she did everything she could to prevent the growth of this economy. I recognise that she has changed her mind on those issues and acknowledges the development of the economy. Everybody agrees that nurses should be properly paid.

Why does the Government not pay them?

Because it is in Partnership 2000.

The Deputy should not say that the Government does not have the money.

The Deputy knows that it is not that simple; people are not as foolish as he may think. As a former member of Government, he is well aware how industrial relations work successfully in this State.

Deputy Howlin was the best Minister for Health ever.

I spoke to many nurses while canvassing in the by-election campaign and they want certain issues addressed.

They want to depend on a decent wage.

Those issues can be addressed but that must happen within certain parameters. Once one speaks to nurses for a few minutes, it is obvious that they recognise that the Government has a difficulty. I am glad that in recent days both sides have begun to recognise each other's difficulties and that the only way forward is through discussion and not strike action.

The Deputy must not have read this evening's newspapers.

I am surprised at Deputy Stagg because he should know better. When he was in Government, he was much more responsible than he is being tonight. I urge the nursing groups, the Government and ICTU to try to resolve this dispute and achieve a fair and balanced approach to nurses' pay. I wish them every success in their efforts to end the strike because people are concerned and want the matter resolved.

Deputy Wall has indicated that he wishes to share time with Deputies Rabbitte, Stagg, O'Sullivan, Michael D. Higgins, Farrelly, John Browne and McGinley.

I add my support to the Labour Party motion. It is incomprehensible that today is the second day of a national nurses' strike. I am amazed to hear Deputy Ryan say he had to listen to the nurses on television and radio. It would be far better for members of Fianna Fáil to go the picket lines and talk to the nurses to find out their grievances.

I have been to the picket line.

I spoke to them in the hospitals two weeks ago.

It is beyond belief that a Government can stand by while such hardship is suffered by thousands of patients in need of care, by the families who depend on day care and residential places for children with disabilities and by those in receipt of daily visits from health board nurses.

I declare an interest in the plight of the nurses. My daughter is a nurse and I have seen at first hand the pressures they must endure daily. I cannot understand how the Government allowed this crisis to happen, a crisis which affects every household in the country, either through involvement in the profession or reliance on the health service.

The ham-fisted approach of the Taoiseach, the Minister for Health and Children and the Minister for Finance in the lead-up to the dispute was insulting to the nursing profession and repulsive to the majority of people. Every Member of the House has received hundreds of calls from anxious patients or their close family members demanding to know what will happen to their loved ones while the nurses are forced out on the picket lines. Sadly, the attitude of most senior members of the Government has only led to deeper anger and anxiety among the nurses and the public. It is only when the strike is over that the full extent of the misery and hardship which thousands of families have endured will be chronicled.

I see the effects of the strike in my constituency in St. Vincent's Hospital in Athy, a geriatric hospital with a respite unit which is now closed. Naas General Hospital is in a similar position. Nurses are no longer willing to be treated as second class citizens or employees. They want to be recognised for their work, dedication, professional qualification and years of service in the health services. I ask the Minister to recognise the damage he has caused and ensure the strike is settled as soon as possible.

It was the attitude of this Government and Minister which forced the nurses onto the picket line. Why were the efforts which are now under way to find a resolution to the dispute not put in place weeks ago? Did the Minister honestly think the strike would not take place, that a largely female profession would not have the nerve to go on strike for its legitimate demands? Does the Minister feel any remorse or regret for the manner in which he has handled the dispute? If the Government had talked to the nurses in the proper fashion, it would have known the extent of the anger and frustration they felt. The Taoiseach, the Minister for Health and Children and the Minister for Finance obviously decided that berating nurses and talking down to them would produce better results than dealing professionally with the outstanding issues which must be addressed. It was an ignorant and foolish policy and it was responsible for the crisis we face today.

The nurses have served this country through good and bad times and will not be brushed aside anymore. They have said enough is enough. They have legitimate demands which deserve to be treated with respect and in a professional manner. Nurses will not accept second rate treatment from the Minister or anyone else. The Government must realise the damage it has already caused and ensure the dispute is resolved so that nurses can get back to what they want to do – give the best quality care to people.

I do not know much about nursing, but I know a thing or two about industrial relations. I know that if one allows a dispute to happen, attitudes inevitably harden and it is more difficult to resolve the dispute. The tentative steps now taking place ought to have happened at least two weeks ago. That is the ABC of industrial relations. The Taoiseach has built his reputation on his alleged bedside skills in that area, but those skills are entirely absent from his Cabinet and entirely foreign to the Minister for Health and Children, a stranger to the sensitivity required.

There is nothing new about Labour Court recommendations being rejected. When a group of workers rejects a Labour Court recommendation by 95 per cent, that simply must be taken as meaning there is a serious problem. The Government allowed this dispute to happen and we listened to the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Kitt, as he repeated the mantra of social partnership. He stated:

In a sense this dispute is a test for the social partnership agreements which have served this country so well in the past 12 years.

That is meaningless. If there is to be effective social partnership it must be managed. No Minister in this Government has managed the process of social partnership. If it means no more than workers engaging in pay restraint in return for, albeit expanding, employment, that is not sufficient. It is not good enough for Deputy Eoin Ryan to say we now have a successful economy. That is the nurses' point. For too long they have been undervalued and have not been allowed to participate in that successful economy. They do not want to be on the picket line. There have been developments in nursing – Deputy Ryan should not shake his head.

The Deputy does not even believe what he says.

Deputies Ryan, Batt O'Keeffe and Hanafin remind me of the corncrake – I can hear them but I do not know which side of the fence they are on. They come in here mouthing platitudes about their support for the nurses just like Minister O'Rourke did on television last night. One got the impression that she was an Opposition Deputy – she is in Government.

It is not that long since the Deputy was in Government.

Why does she not do something?

There was not a peep from the Deputy when he was in Government.

The HSEA must be given Government sanction to enable it to manoeuvre to settle a dispute that should never have happened. There are many things which must be resolved – the 2 per cent under Partnership 2000 which has not been utilised, roughly equivalent to £15 million; the question of annual leave, which does not have a knock-on effect; the proposals made by the Commission on Nursing; the building of a bridge to the next agreement and the real prospect of meaningful increases in take home pay through budget tax reform. There are many elements which could be resolved if there was someone in the Government who knew something about industrial relations.

The Government clearly believes, as Deputy Conor Lenihan said, that it was unwise of the nurses to reject the Labour Court recommendation and that they are being foolish. The nurses are not being foolish, they are angry. They are angry after many years of being undervalued for the contribution they made when the economy was less successful. It is a tragedy that this dispute, through the indolence and lack of sensitivity on the Government benches, has taken place.

Now that it has taken place, making the fatuous speeches which we have heard will not help. I do not want to say derogatory things about the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, because he is one of the nice Deputies on the other side of the House, but I hope he is not masquerading as Minister with responsibility for labour because he has never intervened in a dispute in his life. I do not know what his domestic situation is like, but on the national scale he does not know anything about it. If the Government cannot find someone to do that, a sad situation will occur.

A leaflet handed out by nurses outside Naas Hospital had the heading: nurses still under stress, still underpaid and still under-valued. Nurses have been driven to the picket line by an intransigent and inflexible Government. Comments made by the Taoiseach, and the Minister for Finance who said nurses are hell-bent on national chaos, and the Minister for Health and Children have served to strengthen the resolve of nurses. No later than this evening, the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy is again on record in the Evening Herald, with a “not an inch” speech, in which he said he noticed a softening up in recent days. He was laying it on again, there was to be no change in the Government's position.

At a time when our health service is barely managing to meet the needs of the public, it is unbelievable that the Government would plunge the health service into a crisis of this magnitude. Many nurses believe the Government's attitude is based on the fact that they are largely a female workforce. It was the Government's view that when "push came to shove" the nurses would cave in. I can assure the House and the Minister, who is not present to listen to me, this was a gross under-estimation of the anger felt by nurses and the justice of their demands. I saw that palpable anger in the picket lines in my constituency.

What is the pay of a staff nurse who has worked for 40 years in the Irish health service? If she was starting off, presently, with a third level degree and work experience, she would be paid £14,000 per year. After 40 years of service she would be on £22,339 per year. Having reached that maximum after 11 years service, she can get no further increases. Some 80 per cent of nurses are in that category. That is the level of pay we as a society have decided to give nurses. That is why they feel under stress, under paid and under-valued. They have a genuine case compared with other paramedics, such as medical technologists and radiologists, who have a far superior level of pay and whose tasks are not as onerous.

With each hour the nurses are forced to remain on the picket line, those who depend on our health care system have to suffer increased hardship. It will take months, if not years, for the Irish health care system to recover from a protracted strike. The Government and the Minister, Deputy Cowen, know that at some stage they will have to sit down and deal with the nurses. The Nursing Alliance and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions are anxious to facilitate such a development. The only intransigence remains on the Government's side. In an extraordinary statement the Minister for Finance this evening demanded his colleagues not to budge one inch in the talks and that the Government should not move from its present position. The Government is more interested in using taxpayers' money to place expensive advertisements in newspapers than in talking to the nurses.

Nurses do not want to be on a picket line. They have been forced to take this action by the Government. It is time Ministers Cowen and McCreevy and the Taoiseach realised the harm they have caused over the past three weeks and have the decency to sit down like responsible employers and deal with the nurses' genuine grievances. I call on Independent Deputies Guildea, Healy-Rea, Fox and Blaney, to support the demand from this House and the Labour Party motion calling on the Government to enter—

The Deputy is wasting his breath.

—into immediate talks with the nurses to settle this strike. They will be judged by their action in the lobbies this evening.

It is a crying shame that the talks which are taking place did not commence much earlier when this crisis could have been averted. It was clear from watching "The News" this evening that the senior representatives of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions walked willingly and positively into the discussions. That could have happened weeks ago and the dispute could have been settled long before the deadline for the strike. It is a shame that patients have had to endure suffering before the Minister commenced talks with the nurses' representatives. That is the main point being made in our motion of censure.

I agree with what Deputy Stagg said. I too call on Deputies Blaney, Guildea, Fox and Healy-Rea to show they are worth their salt as public representatives, to stand up to the Government and vote with the Opposition in support of the nurses and to censure the Minister for Health and Children given that he did not enter into talks when it was opportune. We know this strike will not be settled in a day or two, that there are many issues to be discussed, that we are at the early stages of the process, the talks about talks. These talks should have taken place well in advance of the strike. Nurses' frustration, particularly for those who have been in the service for a long time, has much to do with the reward for the work they do. It is also about severe under resourcing in the health service. I will give a few examples in the health board of which I am a member. A paediatric ward cannot be opened due to lack of funds. Wards and theatres are being closed due to lack of funds despite the fact that waiting lists are increasing.

Nationally, there are 2,530 people with intellectual disabilities waiting for appropriate places. There are people waiting for wheelchairs. St. Camillus', a geriatric hospital in Limerick which I visited this week, had to close long stay beds in order to open a stroke unit. We need both a stroke unit and long stay beds but a choice has to be made. That is disgraceful in a Celtic tiger economy where there is funding to spare.

I call on the Minister and his colleagues in Government to wake up to the crisis in the health service. The health service needs tender loving care urgently. That is as much in the background of the nurses' dispute as the pay issue. However, the pay issue must be focused on now. We are censuring the Minister because the dispute has got to this stage. I plead with the Independent Deputies to support our motion and the Minister to deal seriously with the nurses because this issue has got to be resolved. I congratulate the nurses' strike committees for their work around the country. I have been in close touch with the committees in my constituency. They are working well in terms of keeping the emergency services in operation. Nobody wants this strike to continue, everybody wants it to be settled.

There is huge public support for the nurses' grievances which must be addressed immediately. Nurses, as many speakers have said, have been undervalued. The system of connecting their demands with those of other people in the public service is of long standing. In my opinion the Commission on Nursing offers a way in which the issues can be addressed in a positive way. The whole question of relationships in terms of percentages must also be looked at in the context of future negotiations. For a person who earns £15,000 per year, a 3 per cent increase is much less than for a person who earns £60,000 and also gets a 3 per cent increase. However, that is a separate issue. The issue today is the nurses' dispute which must be dealt with seriously by the Minister and those negotiating on his behalf, so that we can get back to a caring health service. In the context of that dispute the Minister must address the other issues I have outlined. Deputies from all over the country would have similar stories about under funding in the health service. It is extremely difficult for nurses and other health professionals to do their job and it is making it very difficult for patients to receive the care we can afford and should give them.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): I thank the Labour Party for sharing some of its time with me. I support the motion before the House. The mentality that caused the 1913 lockout seems to be alive and well in this Government because it has made no effort to avert this strike. A meeting will be held to solve this dispute while it is taking place. The difficulties that existed two or three weeks ago will have to be faced in the coming days and a solution will have to be found. Nurses want to be in the wards looking after their patients. Public health nurses, who do such mar vellous work looking after people in their homes, are on the picket line but, like those to whom I have spoken, they do not want to be there. Nobody wants to go on strike but nurses in particular have a vocation and they want to look after their patients.

The Minister and his colleagues have wasted a great deal of time telling the nurses to be good little girls and boys and accept what they have been offered. It is totally unacceptable that they let matters reach the stage where we now have a strike on our hands. Most strikes cause hardship but a strike in the medical profession causes even more hardship because, apart from the inconvenience to the nurses, ill patients are sent home and others who perhaps need operations cannot be admitted to hospital. In addition, relatives are concerned about their family members who need operations. It is totally unacceptable that a Minister would fail to sit down and talk to these people. At the very least he would have got some credit if he had sat down with them on a regular basis. It is better to try and fail than not try at all. The Minister and his advisers should have tried to sort out the problem before the strike began. He may have had to compromise somewhat but the inequities that currently exist in nurses' pay should be addressed.

When we were in power some years ago, I advised the nurses to forget about a percentage increase and look for a review of their salary. As Deputy O'Sullivan mentioned, 5 per cent of nothing means a person ends up with nothing. A review of nurses' salaries was urgently needed. There was a statement in one of the newspapers that nurses were underpaid and undervalued. They are certainly underpaid and they may be undervalued by the Government but they are not undervalued by the public. Nurses carry out important and difficult work. We all want to be treated by nice nurses when we are in hospital. It is crazy not to have dealt with their grievances because they are few in number at this stage.

I compliment the nurses on their generosity and their magnanimous approach in dealing with emergency cases while on strike. No other body would allow that to happen because it might be viewed as breaking a strike, but in an effort to look after their patients the nurses decided to be on standby and have left the picket line on occasions to help out in emergencies. That is an indication of the interest they have in the patients and it is to their credit that they are prepared to work for no pay. It is unfortunate that strong arm tactics have been adopted. One of the speakers on the Government side referred to a dispute between a boy and girl in the playground but it was a form of bullying in the playground that took place because the nurses were not listened to.

I hope that the talks currently taking place, and in which the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is involved, will come to a rapid and successful conclusion. This strike should never have started. The chaos that is being caused is indefensible. Even if the talks are successful, it will probably take another ten days to get matters moving again. I urge everybody involved in these talks to bring this unfortunate strike to a conclusion.

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a thabhairt do Pháirtí an Lucht Oibre as deis a thabhairt dom labhairt ar an rún tábhachtach seo. Beidh áthas orm tacaíocht a thabhairt don rún nuair a bheidh vóta anseo níos moille tráthnóna mar a rinne Páirtí an Lucht Oibre iad féin an tseachtain seo caite nuair a bhí rún againn-ne maidir leis na banaltraí.

On my way to Dublin this morning I passed through two towns, Letterkenny and Monaghan, and it was a disturbing spectacle to see so many nurses on picket duty outside their hospitals and health centres. It is unprecedented in the history of the State that such dedicated and committed people should be obliged to take to the streets to fight for their rights. It is even more disturbing when one realises that this strike could have been easily avoided. It is unbelievable that little or no effort has been made by the Minister or the Government to hold meaningful negotiations which could have averted the disaster we are now facing. Avenues of communication and negotiation, such as the Employer Labour Conference, were bypassed. It appears there was a deliberate attempt on the part of the Government and the Minister to bring about a showdown with the nurses. If that is their strategy, it is highly irresponsible. It is worse than playing with fire because they are playing with the health and welfare of people.

Over recent days I have received messages from my constituents, as I am sure have many other Members, whose appointments have been cancelled. Some of those people have been waiting for a year or more for those appointments only to have their hopes dashed by lack of action on the Minister's part. Others who were due to have hip and joint replacement operations and other urgent procedures carried out had their admission dates cancelled and postponed. That will only lead to a lengthening of the already long waiting lists. We all know people who are two, three and even four years on a waiting list for urgent procedures. This strike will exacerbate an already serious situation in the health services.

This dispute is prolonging the discomfort and the pain that accompanies illness. This strike should not have happened and it must not be allowed to continue. The Minister had all the answers while in Opposition two years ago and my colleague, Deputy Shatter, quoted extensively from some of the contributions made by the Minister when he sat on this side of the House. He is now in a position to do something about it but where has he led us? He must now act without further delay to bring this unnecessary strike, which is of his own making, to an end. Every hour of delay will endanger the lives of people and prolong their suffering and anxieties.

I agree with Deputy Stagg that the Independent Deputies – Deputy Blaney and Deputy Gildea are from my own county – could have an influence on this debate this evening. I am aware that Deputy Blaney had a meeting with the Taoiseach last night to discuss his serious concerns about a vote that will be taken at midnight in this House on Partnership for Peace. I hope he will have the same concern for the nurses' grievances at 8.30 this evening when we vote on this motion.

As a former State employee I know it is possible to remunerate people without disturbing the structures of basic pay. As a former teacher I am aware that substantial allowances can be given for degrees, a higher diploma in education and certificates in various courses. Long service increments can be awarded to vice-principals, deputy vice-principals and people who hold other posts of responsibility. That is an area which should have been explored. The issue should not have been allowed to reach this stage without exploring all the possibilities.

No nurse wants to be on a picket line outside his or her hospital. The Minister and the Government did not have the will to explore these avenues and that has resulted in the situation we now face. I implore the Minister and the Government to waste no time in getting nurses back to the wards where they want to be.

I commend my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, on his immediate and positive response last weekend to the recognition by the Nursing Alliance of the Government's difficulties in dealing with the nursing issues within the context of existing social partnership agreements. Instead of criticising the Minister, Deputy Cowen, for protecting social partnership in the interests of the wider community, the Opposition's time would be more constructively spent in supporting the Minister in his efforts to seek a solution of the dispute. This dispute is extremely complex and it is going to take considerable goodwill, patience, skill and understanding to resolve it.

That rules out the Minister, Deputy Cowen.

Did the Minister of State say "patience" or "patients"?

Order, please. Please allow the Minister to continue.

The most important outcome of the meeting on Monday between the Minister and the Nursing Alliance was a mutual recognition of the complexity of each side's problems. This has provided a solid basis on which to devise a process for addressing the issues within the existing social partnership agreements, particularly Partnership 2000.

Is this a millennium project?

The absolute priority is to put in place a process that will lead to a successful outcome, but will not give rise to knock-on claims from other public service groups.

I am glad to hear the Deputy knows his geography and all about Knock. I welcome the Minister's initiative in involving the social partners – the Government, employers and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Their active participation is crucial, as is their agreement to the process.

Yesterday evening, representatives of the Government met the General Purposes Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to explore possibilities in regard to agreeing a viable process—

That should have been done last week.

—consistent with existing social partnership agreements, for resolving the dispute. A further meeting is taking place this afternoon and is, I understand, continuing at this stage.

As regards the impact of the strike on health services, the reports submitted to the Department of Health and Children today indicate that there have been no major difficulties on the ground so far. The acute hospital services are continuing to cope with the disruption arising from the strike, but constant monitoring and continued co-operation is required for the duration of the strike. In general, all day services, with the exception of dialysis and chemotherapy, have been cancelled. Fracture, warfarin and ante-natal out-patient clinics appear to be operating countrywide, with additional outpatient services in ophthalmology, paediatrics, cardiology, diagnostic breast and hepatitis C available in some regions. Accident and emergency departments are either quieter than normal or no busier than would be expected for the time of year. In-patient bed availability is generally adequate with a high proportion of vacant beds in most hospitals.

The Minister of State is being laughed at by people in the Public Gallery.

What about all the cancelled elective surgery?

It is not in order—

It is unbelievable that a Minister, who is also a doctor, would come to the House—

The Deputy should resume his seat. It is disorderly to interrupt. The Minister, without interruption.

The Opposition has requested, on various occasions, an up-to-date report on what is happening on the ground. That is all I am giving at present.

The Minister of State's speech is an embarrassment.

When is the Minister of State going to talk about the issues?

Order, please.

This issue existed when the Opposition was in Government less than two and half years ago. The Opposition did not address it.

There was no strike then.

(Interruptions).

This Minister has put an extra £800 million into the health service in less than two years.

(Interruptions.)

That is an extra 10 per cent. The Opposition does not like to hear the truth.

On a point of order, could it be explained to the House why the Minister is absent from the House for this debate?

That is not a point of order.

His absence is more eloquent than the Minister of State's contribution.

The Minister is trying to resolve this problem.

It is about time.

The Minister and the Deputy must address the Chair.

The Minister is part of the problem, not the solution.

The Minister will certainly get an A for effort, in comparison with others.

The Minister of State should continue his statement.

We are only talking. Talk to the heat of deeds will not do much.

That should have been done last week.

Accident and emergency departments are either quieter than normal or no busier than would be expected for the time of year. The level of closed beds varies greatly across regions, with up to 50 per cent of beds closed in some hospitals, and others with all but normal levels of beds open.

On a point of order, the Minister of State's time is up.

That is up to the Ceann Comhairle.

The Minister of State's time is not quite up.

It is according to the clock in the Chamber.

It is not up according to the Chair's clock.

The Minister's time is well up, as is this Government's.

In general, services for older people are operating in accordance with locally agreed plans. Day care and respite services are generally not operating. Residential services and public health nursing services are operating with difficulty and disruptions.

The Minister of State should now conclude.

I will conclude by emphasising, on behalf of the Government, that it remains committed to finding a process as speedily as possible for resolving this dispute in a way that is consistent with existing social partnership agreements and that would facilitate the maintenance of social partnership into the future.

This Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Cowen, has been an exceptional Minister in regard to procuring funds for the health services.

Here is the lecture again.

He certainly made history.

I wish to share my time with Deputy McManus.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

It is a sad day when not a single Fianna Fáil backbencher can come to the House to support the Minister of State. They are obviously thoroughly ashamed of the stance taken by the Government on this issue.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

He did not even get Tonto – he is the Lone Ranger.

Nobody should underestimate the significance of a national nurses' strike. When a group with no previous history of engaging in industrial action goes on strike, one may rest assured that something radically new is happening. One thing which is certainly new is the manner in which the Government has handled this dispute.

The Minister for Health and Children drew attention in the House last week to my own role as Minister for Finance in other industrial disputes. I suppose, on one level, it was a fair point to make. However, the reality is that no Government of which I was a member was as prepared – and, probably, intent – on provoking a confrontation with a group of workers as this one clearly has been.

The Taoiseach has come close to reprimanding the current Minister for Finance for his input thus far into this dispute. After the Minister's latest comments today, he should now go further. The Minister for Finance is responsible for a great deal of the anger now evident on picket lines and, despite the mild rebuke from the Taoiseach, he seems intent on digging the Government into an even deeper hole. It is surprising to see a Government so out of touch on an issue such as this. As is to be expected, the Minister, Deputy McCreevy, is leading the way.

I have noted the Government's insistence on meeting the requirements of social partnership, and on one level I understand it. However, social partnership has replaced the Labour Court recommendation as the line the Government refuses to cross – the line in the sand, to use a phrase used in this House on a previous infamous occasion. The sanctity of the Labour Court recommendation diminished somewhat over the weekend.

When reflected upon, this dispute may be seen as the final dispute of one era of social partnership or the first of another. This point seems lost on the Government. Growing economic affluence has seriously undermined the wage restraint for taxation equation which successfully lifted us all out of the economic doldrums. However, the doldrums are no more and the public will not be persuaded to the contrary by the Minister, Deputy McCreevy, or anybody else.

If that agreement was dying, it was dealt a final blow by the revelations from Ansbacher, the DIRT inquiry and the tribunals. Nothing annoys people more than when those preaching restraint are proved absolutely incapable of following their own advice. The other reality is that when Partnership 2000 was agreed, the fear was that the Celtic tiger, then a relatively new phenomenon, would not last. There was no current budget surplus planned then. This year, it will be in excess of £4,000 million.

One would think that figures like that would have given rise to an excited debate about what could be done with the money, that the Government would be excited at the prospect of making this a fairer place to live or a country in which basic rights that have been denied to a substantial section of our population could, at last, be addressed. Take, for instance, what might be done in the health services. Anyone who buys the argument that more money would not make for a better service, as the Taoiseach said last week, is mistaken. More resources would not obviate the need for value for money spending, but they would certainly facilitate more and better delivered services.

Opposition concentrates the mind.

Critically, too, it would send a strong signal to a whole section of public sector workers, including nurses, that we, as a society, set great store on what they do. The Government had better realise that if it wants another round of social partnership, it urgently needs to articulate a sense of purpose that will persuade workers to sign up for it – in short, a vision of a new Ireland. The Government seems incapable of rising to this task. Social partnership is about more than a set of rules. It should also be a process. The Government's refusal, even at this stage, to negotiate with the nurses is a breach of the spirit of social partnership. It has known for three weeks that the Labour Court recommendations will have to be revisited in light of the extent of their rejection by the nurses. The Irish Times of 25 September carried a story on the dispute under the headline, “Cowen accepts strike is inevitable”. It must be the first time that a strike was accepted as inevitable almost three weeks before it was scheduled to take place.

This dispute must be resolved. Each day it drifts on, more damage is done to a health service already in crisis. Waiting lists, already unacceptably high, will lengthen. There is an obligation on both sides to bring it to an end. I note from the radio this morning that one side is ready and willing to engage in face to face talks with the people who have been taking out propaganda advertisements in the newspapers over the past few days. The question is whether the other side is willing to do likewise or if it is playing to another agenda. The next few days will answer that.

I thank everyone who spoke in favour of the motion. We are now 36 hours into the country's first ever nurses' strike – a strike which could and should have been prevented – and there is still no end in sight. There is no word for the sick and elderly who are directly affected by this breakdown in our health services. Throughout the country, nurses who should be at work are still on the picket line and they are frustrated, angry and determined. The Government bears full responsibility for this shambles.

The Minister for Health and Children refuses to listen and appears to have deliberately set about creating the conditions for the strike. He stated in this debate that, on Saturday last, he heard for the first time that the Nursing Alliance recognised the Government's difficulties in dealing with this matter. Did he once ask that question in the weeks leading up to the strike? Did it not cross his mind that perhaps he should sit down with the Nursing Alliance while there was still time and listen to what it did and did not recognise? In the response promptly given to him by the Nursing Alliance, Liam Doran made clear that he had always recognised the difficulty and not just at the eleventh hour. Until that point, the Minister had blocked all communication with the nurses, just when it was most needed. If nurses had been listened to with an open mind and given a fair hearing by the Minster and the Government, the likelihood of a strike would certainly have been greatly diminished.

The Government is not interested in listening. The Minister for Finance prefers to insult nurses. The Taoiseach has proved himself very willing to sign hundreds of blank cheques worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, but he could not concern himself directly with the payment of wage cheques to nurses. He has, in effect, lent public support to the bad mouthing of nurses by his Minister for Finance.

Where does that leave the Minister for Health and Children? He has been bellicose in style and yet, at the same time, inert in substance. The lethal mixture of the two has blown apart our health service at a time when it was already under serious and grave pressure. It has resulted in a disintegration of many of the normal daily services delivered by our hospitals and community care. The Minister, who was elected to run the health services, is leaving a strange legacy for posterity. He will be remembered as the Minister who went for his tea when the nurses went out on strike. He was elected to tackle the waiting lists and has succeeded in driving more patients onto longer lists. The message is clear: vote Fianna Fáil and the poor, elderly and children will suffer, and will continue to suffer unless the strike ends quickly. Since the Minister left no line of communication open to the Nursing Alliance, it took him until this weekend to discover that talking to nurses is feasible. That was well beyond the point when the strike could have been averted. It took until his meeting on Monday with members of the alliance for him to realise that there was mutual recognition of the problems which exist on both sides.

Even until today, the Government approach has been desultory. It is as if this is a strike which could go on and which could be prolonged indefinitely. How different has been the approach adopted by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Peter Cassells said today that he will not leave today's meeting without a formula or process for talks being agreed. It is the Irish Congress of Trade Unions which is driving the issue and which appreciates the urgency. What is needed at this point is an understanding of what is at issue in terms of the future of our health service and the important central role nurses play in it. We have not yet reached the point of talks. What we are reaching is day three of a strike which should never have happened. Is it any wonder there is a public perception that the Minister is in no hurry, that it is his intention to starve the nurses into submission? If that is the intention, it is a very dangerous one. The long-term damage to industrial relations within the health service will be incalculable.

Perhaps the Minister does not want to pay the bills. As each day passes, his Department saves £2 million in nurses' salaries alone. The heroism shown by nurses in working to provide emergency cover without pay must not be used as a weapon against them. If that is the intention, the outcome is obvious. One does not need to look to Australia to know what can happen and to see where such tactics can end. The majority of nurses on strike do so without strike pay. The Government lost no time in stopping their pay on day one of the dispute. At the same time in many cases, nurses' workloads during the strike has increased by anything up to 40 per cent as they attempt to cover for their picketing colleagues. Hospital doctors are doing double and treble shifts. Their difficulties will become more acute as people are pushed to their limits, as the tiredness engendered from the lack of relief sets in, and as people have to cover duties normally covered by nurses as well as their areas of responsibility.

The Labour Party has tabled this motion because we believe it is a positive way to resolve the strike. We call on every Deputy to support the motion, especially those Deputies who describe themselves as Independents and who represent counties such as Kerry, Donegal and my county of Wicklow. I want to see a resolution of the strike and many other Deputies have said the same during this debate. The motion offers the opportunity to sort this out swiftly and fairly and to make up for all the prevarication, failure and abuse which lies at the door of the Government. We have an opportunity and the Independent Deputies, who meet every week with the Government Whip and who are the most powerful people in this Chamber, have it on their conscience to make the choice to stand with the nurses and patients and the resolution of the strike so that the nurses can return to the hospital wards and care for the sick and the elderly who depend on them. Sick and elderly people live in Counties Donegal, Kerry and Wicklow. They want their nurses to return to work.

Independent Deputies will prevent this from happening if they cravenly and silently support the Government. Not one of them has turned up this evening and I ask them why. I challenge them now: why does the sick and elderly in the communities they represent matter so little to them? Do they matter less than having tarmacadam laid on a few roads? People need the support of all Deputies in the House and I urge them to support the Labour Party motion tonight.

Amendment put.

Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Andrews, David.Ardagh, Seán.Blaney, Harry.Brady, Martin.Brennan, Matt.Brennan, Séamus.Briscoe, Ben.Browne, John (Wexford).Byrne, Hugh.Callely, Ivor.Carey, Pat.Collins, Michael.Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.Cowen, Brian.Cullen, Martin.Daly, Brendan.de Valera, Síle.Dennehy, John.Doherty, Seán.Ellis, John.Fahey, Frank.Fleming, Seán.Flood, Chris.Foley, Denis.Fox, Mildred.Gildea, Thomas.Hanafin, Mary.Harney, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Healy-Rae, Jackie.Jacob, Joe.Keaveney, Cecilia.Kelleher, Billy.

Kenneally, Brendan.Killeen, Tony.Kirk, Séamus.Kitt, Michael.Kitt, Tom.Lawlor, Liam.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McDaid, James.McGennis, Marian.McGuinness, John.Martin, Micheál.Moffatt, Thomas.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.Ó Cuív, Éamon.O'Dea, Willie.O'Donnell, Liz.O'Donoghue, John.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Hanlon, Rory.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Keeffe, Ned.O'Malley, Desmond.O'Rourke, Mary.Power, Seán.Roche, Dick.Ryan, Eoin.Smith, Michael.Treacy, Noel.Wade, Eddie.Wallace, Dan.Wallace, Mary.Walsh, Joe.Wright, G. V.

Níl

Allen, Bernard.Barnes, Monica.Barrett, Seán.Bell, Michael.Belton, Louis.Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).Bruton, Richard.Burke, Ulick.Carey, Donal.Clune, Deirdre.Connaughton, Paul.Cosgrave, Michael.Coveney, Simon.Crawford, Seymour.Creed, Michael.Currie, Austin.D'Arcy, Michael.De Rossa, Proinsias.Deasy, Austin.Deenihan, Jimmy.Durkan, Bernard.Farrelly, John.Ferris, Michael.Finucane, Michael.Flanagan, Charles.Gilmore, Éamon.Gormley, John.Gregory, Tony.Higgins, Jim.Higgins, Joe.

Higgins, Michael.Hogan, Philip.Howlin, Brendan.Kenny, Enda.Lowry, Michael.McCormack, Pádraic.McDowell, Derek.McGahon, Brendan.McGinley, Dinny.McManus, Liz.Mitchell, Olivia.Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.Naughten, Denis.Neville, Dan.Noonan, Michael.Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.O'Keeffe, Jim.O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Penrose, William.Perry, John.Quinn, Ruairí.Rabbitte, Pat.Reynolds, Gerard.Ring, Michael.Ryan, Seán.Sargent, Trevor.Shatter, Alan.Sheehan, Patrick. Shortall, Róisín.

Níl–continued

Spring, Dick.Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.

Timmins, Billy.Wall, Jack.Yates, Ivan.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Barrett and Stagg.
Amendment agreed to.
Question put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."

Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Andrews, David.Ardagh, Seán.Blaney, Harry.Brady, Martin.Brennan, Matt.Brennan, Séamus.Briscoe, Ben.Browne, John (Wexford).Byrne, Hugh.Callely, Ivor.Carey, Pat.Collins, Michael.Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.Cowen, Brian.Cullen, Martin.Daly, Brendan.de Valera, Síle.Dennehy, John.Doherty, Seán.Ellis, John.Fahey, Frank.Fleming, Seán.Flood, Chris.Foley, Denis.Fox, Mildred.Gildea, Thomas.Hanafin, Mary.Harney, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Healy-Rae, Jackie.Jacob, Joe.Keaveney, Cecilia.Kelleher, Billy.

Kenneally, Brendan.Killeen, Tony.Kirk, Séamus.Kitt, Michael.Kitt, Tom.Lawlor, Liam.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McDaid, James.McGennis, Marian.McGuinness, John.Martin, Micheál.Moffatt, Thomas.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.Ó Cuív, Éamon.O'Dea, Willie.O'Donnell, Liz.O'Donoghue, John.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Hanlon, Rory.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Keeffe, Ned.O'Malley, Desmond.O'Rourke, Mary.Power, Seán.Roche, Dick.Ryan, Eoin.Smith, Michael.Treacy, Noel.Wade, Eddie.Wallace, Dan.Wallace, Mary.Walsh, Joe.Wright, G. V.

Níl

Allen, Bernard.Barnes, Monica.Barrett, Seán.Bell, Michael.Belton, Louis.Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).Bruton, Richard.Burke, Ulick.Carey, Donal.Clune, Deirdre.Connaughton, Paul.Cosgrave, Michael.Coveney, Simon.Crawford, Seymour.Creed, Michael.Currie, Austin.D'Arcy, Michael.De Rossa, Proinsias.Deasy, Austin.Deenihan, Jimmy.Durkan, Bernard.Farrelly, John.Ferris, Michael.

Finucane, Michael.Flanagan, Charles.Gilmore, Éamon.Gormley, John.Gregory, Tony.Higgins, Jim.Higgins, Joe.Higgins, Michael.Hogan, Philip.Howlin, Brendan.Kenny, Enda.McCormack, Pádraic.McDowell, Derek.McGahon, Brendan.McGinley, Dinny.McManus, Liz.Mitchell, Olivia.Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.Naughten, Denis.Neville, Dan.Noonan, Michael.Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín. O'Keeffe, Jim.

Níl–continued

O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Penrose, William.Perry, John.Quinn, Ruairí.Rabbitte, Pat.Reynolds, Gerard.Ring, Michael.Ryan, Seán.

Sargent, Trevor.Shatter, Alan.Sheehan, Patrick.Shortall, Róisín.Spring, Dick.Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.Timmins, Billy.Wall, Jack.Yates, Ivan.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Barrett and Stagg.
Question declared carried.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.
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