Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

20 February 1997 Edition

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Nurses' militancy is deep-rooted

By Aine Keane

Although the lamp of Florence Nightingale has long been quenched, many of the shadowy illusions it threw out are still flickering like old cinematic tape in the minds of senior Irish politicians. The outdated perception of nursing as a passive, vocational duty was evident as the proposed national nursing strike unmasked a culture of complacency about the demanding role of the nursing profession.

Indeed the very idea of nursing as a legitmate profession as opposed to a ``vocation'' is something the Irish public have yet to come to terms with.

The current strike crisis and the threat it poses to public healthcare is the cumulation of government delaying tactics since early 1995. At that stage a financial package hadn't even been proposed, with a realistic proposal of £37.5 million emerging only in April 1996 following union rejections of £10 million and £20 million packages. Government statements that a ``concession'' to nurses could pose a threat to public service pay policy added to a growing militancy among nurses who rejected the £30 million package and elected a new radical INO executive last May.

A national strike is presently on hold pending a ballot of INO members.

Irish nurses have long harboured feelings of injustice and neglect. Some nursing sources have stated that the pay rise, although it is a practical necessity, is not the real issue at the heart of the crisis.

The major issues concern the overwork of nurses who perform daily medical services ranging from general care, education, counselling to the most menial of non-nursing duties, often in grossly understaffed hospitals.

At present the government sees an early retirement package as crucial to ensure a ballot in favour of their latest proposal. Even if strike action is averted nurses have shown through their willingness to participate in an unprecedented national strike that what they really require is respect not begrudged concessions. Although an air of optimism has surrounded INO branch meetings on the new deal, the INO have threatened to escalate its dispute with the Government if it is not accepted.

As one nurse said last week, ``nurses have discovered their worth, what we asked for is what we want.We are not interested in anything else now''.

An Phoblacht
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