While the disruption is creating a worrying time for many people, contingency plans have been activated by the HSE to ensure urgent life-saving care is maintained throughout this industrial action. I recognise that the unions are co-operating in terms of contingency planning in these regards. These plans are being modified and refined daily to ensure this essential coverage is delivered during this dispute.
I understand the strength of the unions' concerns and fully recognise that to have a first-class health service requires staff who have first-class support. It is regrettable the unions feel that pay reforms are not coming into action quickly enough but the proposed industrial action and ongoing industrial action are not the answer.
We are fully committed to coming to a satisfactory solution for all parties involved in accordance with the terms of the public service pay and stability agreement. I hear many people say that the solution can be found within the agreement. There is a duty on people to outline how exactly they would bring that solution about. Any solution to this dispute must be affordable and fair; affordable to the taxpayer but fair to all other hard-working public servants, including nurses in other unions who are working today and who have faithfully observed the parameters of the public service pay and stability agreement.
The stakes in this dispute are high. I mentioned recently that this situation is like a tightrope, and it is. The Government must maintain a responsible and prudent handling of our public finances, including public service pay, because without it, all future pay agreements may not only be at risk but may become unaffordable. To agree to the demands of the unions as they currently stand would tilt that handling of the public finances into an unsustainable spiral. This would damage our economy, our health service and ultimately public servants, including nurses, who we wish to support.
It is essential that industrial action comes to a halt as soon as possible. Our Government is sincere in its offer to want to talk and engage with nursing unions to reach a resolution to this dispute. I am confident this can be accomplished through further dialogue and engagement. I really hope after today's stoppage comes to an end that there is a real intensity of engagement as we work together to try to avoid further disruption.
I am sure many of us have had the opportunity to see nurses on the picket line. People have beeped their horns in support. What struck me as I passed were the chants I heard, proclaiming the need for safe staffing. While the key staff essential for running the services in the building behind them are outside on the picket line, there has to be a better way to do our business. I believe that the better way lies in the industrial relations machinery of the State, the Workplace Relations Commission, the Labour Court and not on the picket line. The solution will not be found here on the floor of the Dáil. The solution will be found using our industrial relations mechanism. We want to use that mechanism. We want to come to a solution. We want to find an innovative solution but we also want to honour an agreement that most parties in this House claim they fully support, which is the public service pay and stability agreement, and the commitment we gave to all our public servants, including nurses and midwives, under that agreement.