The plans dominated Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil as the opposition united to urge the Government to change course.
Sinn Féin’s deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said patients would not see the difference as agency staff would be forced to make way for cut-price replacements: “It is not a scheme — it is a scam. This was imposed without consultation.
“The Government is setting out in a very deliberate way to slash the wages of graduate midwives and nurses by 20%.
“These are not new jobs. It is very clear that 1,000 existing posts in the system will be displaced to bring in graduates and exploit them at 20% less than the rate to which they are entitled.”
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin attacked remarks by Health Minister James Reilly that alternatives to the cut price jobs would be fast food outlets or immigration. Mr Martin said this was an appalling intervention with a “let them eat cake” attitude to the unemployed.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said the proposal was about creating jobs: “That is our top priority. It is about getting people into employment and gaining experience.
“These are additional posts for graduate nurses — and, you know, at a time when there is so much unemployment, when there are so many young graduates who cannot get work at all, I think members of this House should be welcoming the creation of jobs.”
Independent TD Mattie McGrath said Mr Gilmore’s body language showed he was uncomfortable with the cut price wages and urged him to rediscover the “righteous indignation” he displayed in opposition.