Members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation have voted in favour of industrial action by 90%.
The union says that staffing levels are still 3,500 less than in 2008, which is impacting on patients.
In a statement this evening Health Minister Simon Harris said industrial action is not the solution as it will not reduce the numbers of patients on trolleys or on waiting lists.
Liam Doran, General Secretary of the INMO, says industrial action will close beds to ensure patient numbers meet staffing levels.
"Our members have said enough is enough. They're grossly understaffed and overworked. All efforts to recruit and retain nursing and midwifery staff in the public health service have failed.
“The choice for both the Department of Health and the HSE is now quite clear. Either they agree the necessary measures/initiatives, to address the current crisis and ensure a supply of nurses and midwives into the future, or services will have to be curtailed leading to bed closures and the contraction of community nursing services.
"We will write, immediately, to the Minister and the Director General proposing roundtable discussions, with an independent chair if necessary, while also establishing workplace campaign committees should this engagement fail and industrial action be necessary.
Nurses and midwives have had enough. They will not tolerate indifference any longer and tangible, significant, measures are needed immediately”.
Minister Simon Harris said: “It is regrettable that the INMO has voted in favour of industrial action as announced this evening. While I understand that our health service faces serious challenges on recruitment and retention, industrial action is not the solution. It will not reduce the numbers of patients on trolleys in Emergency Departments, will not reduce the waiting lists or improve service delivery and could lead to the cancellation of elective surgeries.
“My Department and HSE management and the INMO have had continuing engagement at the WRC on a number of matters relating to Emergency Departments over the past year. Management continue to be available to meet the INMO on an ongoing basis.
“The proposed action will not assist efforts to attract nurses to work in the public health service in Ireland. The HSE is focussed on recruitment and retention of nurses and midwives and, as announced yesterday, is running an open recruitment event from 28th to 30th December in Dr Steevens’ Hospital for nurses and midwives from all disciplines who are interested in working in the Irish Public Health Service.
"Attendees can apply and interview for jobs on the day and get information on Nursing and Midwifery Board (NMBI) registration and Garda vetting requirements. This will be followed by a series of careers events for nurses throughout 2017."