Taoiseach 'saddened' at nurses' decision to strike on a Wednesday

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he’s “saddened” at the nurses’ decision to strike on a Wednesday as it will see thousands of operations cancelled.

He also said if there was a special pay deal for nurses – every other group in the public sector would want the same and it’s “money we don’t have at the moment”.

Speaking during his trip to Africa, Mr Varadkar said: “We will do everything we can to avoid a strike, but ultimately it is a decision by the unions to go on strike.

“I am saddened that the unions have taken a decision to strike on a Wednesday.

“They had the option of striking on a Saturday or Sunday, which would have had the same political impact and out the same amount of pressure on the Government to resolve the problem and engage, but it wouldn’t have had such a big impact on patients.

“A strike on a Wednesday means that thousands of operations will be cancelled and thousands of clinic appointments will be cancelled.

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“Many of those people, and I am just thinking of them, will have had a date in their minds for January 30 and might have been waiting months for those appointments, and even if the strike is called off at the last minute it will be too late to reschedule. So I do regret it.”

Mr Varadkar said he respects the INMO’s decision as people have the right to withdraw their labour, but he is still saddened that they chose to do it on a Wednesday.

The Taoiseach said there is a pay deal with all public servants, not just nurses and it provides for five different pay increases in 2019.

He listed this as an across-the-board pay increase for all public servants; an incremental pay increase for most public servants; a reduction in the pension levy; a special pay increase for low-paid public servants earning under €30,000; and also a special pay increase for those recruited after 2012.

Mr Varadkar added: “All of that is costing hundreds of millions of euro.

“We are happy to find that money in the Budget because we want to pay our public servants better, but there is a limit to what we can afford.

“The difficulty with doing a special deal for any one aspect of the civil service is that every other group would want the same, and that could run into hundreds of millions of euro, money we don’t have at the moment, which we would have to borrow, and I don’t think it’s prudent to borrow money to fund pay increases.

“And even if we had that money we might need it for Brexit in ten weeks’ time. We certainly need it for housing.

“That is where we are at the moment in relation to that. We will of course engage with the unions through the normal mechanisms, the Workplace Relations Commission and possibly the Labour Court.”

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