Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe has sparked fresh anger among nurses after rejecting demands to increase their salaries, claiming that any raise will have "huge and entirely negative consequences" and is "not affordable".
Mr Donohoe insists "a demand like that cannot be met" despite growing pressure from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation to increase income levels for members across the country.
Speaking on the Tonight Show with Matt Cooper and Ivan Yates on Virgin Media One, Mr Donohoe said he has the "height of respect" for the work of nurses in hospitals nationwide.
WATCH: Finance Minister @Paschald says he can’t and won’t meet nurse's wage demands. He was speaking on @TonightVMT ahead of possible industrial action at hospitals and schools #TonightVMT pic.twitter.com/j9b1opcOrG— Virgin Media News (@VirginMediaNews) December 7, 2018
However, despite the compliment, he said the Government will not allow any increases in pay levels for nurses as it would risk limiting the money available for the health service and other public sector workers pay levels: "That's not a demand I'm going to be able to meet."
"I have the height of respect for the work our nurses do and for the huge contributions they make in our wards every hour and every day. But I also have a huge amount of respect for the work other public servants do.
"If a demand like that was to be conceded it would have huge and entirely negative consequences for the current wage agreement that we have, and wouldn't be affordable," he said.
In a statement to the Irish Examiner the INMO hit out at Mr Donohoe's position, saying the Finance Minister has been "unwilling" to meet with them on the issue on a number of occasions this year.
"Nurses and midwives are the lowest-paid graduate profession within the Irish healthcare system and also work the longest hours.
"Since Minister Donohoe appeared on the Tonight Show we have received a significant number of comments from our members who felt his comments were patronising towards them as a majority female workforce and had little regard for requests made on their behalf."
"Nurses and midwives are extremely exercised about the very dangerous working conditions for themselves and their patients due to a recruitment and retention crisis. We would again appeal to the Minister to meet directly with us to explore realistic proposals to resolve this ongoing and worsening crisis regarding recruitment and retention for nursing and midwifery," a spokesperson said.
The comments came as the Oireachtas parliamentary budget office director, Annette Connolly, raised concerns over runaway departmental spending, noting €1bn worth of supplementary budgets occurred this year.