Nurses’ strike: It’s time we cared about those who care the most

Sean O’Riordan says nurses are right to make their voices heard after enduring substandard wages and conditions for far too long.

I would like to pose a question to the public regarding the nurses’ strike. And I want to stress that this is a personal question which has nothing to do with my job as a senior reporter with the Irish Examiner. It’s about natural justice.

My daughter is a nurse at Cork University Hospital who got up last Wednesday at 6am to mount the earliest pickets, which neither she or her colleagues wanted to do, but felt they had no choice but to undertake this action because of the poor pay and dire conditions they are enduring on a daily basis.

She’s 23 and spoke to the media without any prompting from me, which Olivia Kelleher of the Irish Times can confirm, as she didn’t even know she was my daughter at the time of the interview.

Nurses braved the shocking weather conditions to mount the picket. But they do the same when they are on a shift, often taking their lives in their hands to make sure the sick are looked after.

I can confirm that she often comes home with her lunchbox untouched, which we give out about.

She sacrifices her breaks because it’s a vocation to help others in trouble, just like other emergency services will do when called on.

But it’s constant in nursing.

However, there are other people who have vocations in this country, which this Government and successive ones (made up of other parties who now claim to be fighting their corner) have totally ignored and unrewarded because they know that these angels will still do the job for substandard wages and conditions.

If the snow had become heavier during the first strike day, as it may well do in the coming days and weeks, who will the Government call out then? The Defence Forces, of course.

These are another group of dedicated people who have sworn an oath of allegiance to the State and who are dragged out by a Government when there’s any emergency and expected to save the nation.

Many of their families are on the breadline because those serving in the army, navy, and air corps (who regularly undertake emergency medivacs within the country and to England) are paid a pittance.

Another national disgrace.

The Government has now threatened that it could hit nurses with financial penalties if they continue industrial action.

I would pose the question: Would they dare do that to the gardaí when the boys in blue threatened to walk out? Not a chance.

Other unions representing different interest groups in the county will no doubt look for pay increases shortly. And after years of austerity they are right to do so.

However, it is time they recognised and provided far more vocal support for the worst paid public servants — nurses and Defence Forces members.

I have to acknowledge that firemen, gardaí, and some businesses have offered support on a local level to less-paid emergency services.

Their representative bodies and other major unions should now seriously step up to the plate in a very vocal fashion.

It is time the public service underdogs are rewarded and it is up to all unions/representative bodies to ensure that the less well paid in our society are looked after first and foremost.

One day you may have to rely on the selfless acts of strangers who care for you when you’re in most need.

Just like my daughter, her colleagues, fireman, gardaí, the air corp crew who fly you to a hospital abroad, the paramedics who save your life after a heart attack or traffic accident, or the army lads who turn up to sandbag homes when there are floods or sweep the snow away.

This is supposed to be a Republic. It has lost that ethos.

- Sean O’Riordan is a senior reporter with the Irish Examiner

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