Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty said the staff of Irish hospitals have acted with responsibility and in a mature manner and stated that the government has decided to “disengage”.

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR faced a raft of questions about the big-ticket issues facing him in 2019. 

Brexit, the impending nurses’ strike action and the spiralling costs of the new children’s hospital, as well as the ongoing housing and homelessness crisis featured during the first Leaders’ Questions of 2019. 

Micheál Martin criticised the government’s no-deal Brexit contingency plans (more are being published later today) stating that they were “light, lacking in detail and needs considerable fleshing out”.

Brexit 

The vote on the withdrawal agreement in Westminster is being held this evening, but Varadkar said it would be unhelpful for him to comment on the democratic process in the UK. 

Varadkar also faced robust questioning about the impending nurses’ strike. 

Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty said the staff of Irish hospitals have acted with responsibility and in a mature manner and stated that the government has decided to “disengage”.

“Nurses and midwives deserve our full support and their demand for a better health service that treats them as essential skilled workers with dignity and with value… The Taoiseach’s approach has been to dismiss these concerns and industrial action is now the regrettable outworking of his government policy and that of his minister as he ignores the issue of recruitment and retention crisis in our hospitals,” said Doherty.

Strike 

Varadkar said he believed the concerns of the nurses are “sincere” but said the difficulties in recruiting and retaining healthcare staff, including nurses, are not unique to Ireland.

“The same problems exist in places that pay much less than us such as Northern Ireland and places that pay much more such as the Middle East and Australia, for example.”

It is the consequence of an international labour market in which there is a shortage of healthcare staff, he said, adding: 

“We in government do not think for a second that the nurses are anything other than sincere in the action that they are proposing to take. We will do our best to try to avoid a strike. There is an engagement today involving employers and unions.

“There will be a meeting involving the oversight committee of the public sector pay deal and that will include the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform as well as the Department of Health. That will happen on Friday. There are other options, including the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. We will do everything we reasonably can to prevent this strike from happening,” he said.

However, he pointed out that there is already a pay deal in place, a pay deal agreed not just with nurses and midwives but for all public servants.

“It would not be fair or affordable to offer a special deal for one group in the public service and then say to every other group in the public service that we have no money left for them. That would not be right,” said the Taoiseach. 

Children’s hospital 

The overrun in costs of the new children’s hospital was next up. The Taoiseach said it will be one of best hospitals in the world that will last for 100 years. 

However, those in the opposition said the mounting costs are unheard of in terms of a public project. Varadkar said a board was set up to oversee the roll out of the project, and an investigation is taking place as to how the costs have spiralled so much out of control. 

The Taoiseach confirmed that other health projects will now be impacted, and work in the department is underway as to where the additional money will come from.

Dublin South Central TD Joan Collins raised the issue of housing and homelessness with the Taoiseach stating that government policy was making things worse. Responding, Varadkar said he does not doubt for a second the depth of the housing crisis and the effects it is having on many Irish citizens.

“We are hard at work as a government to deal with this,” claiming that supply of housing and apartments is on the rise.

Sharing is caring!