Ireland can't survive without nurses, they shouldn't need to strike for us to know that 5 months ago

Ireland can't survive without nurses, they shouldn't need to strike for us to know that

Ireland needs nurses far more than it needs Fine Gael.

Nurses undergo rigorous training to become healthcare professionals. They understand the principles of care and the complexities of the human body. By dealing first-hand with pain and tragedy and healing and recovery, they accumulate a knowledge about the human condition that is not available to most people.

There are no such requirements in order to be elected to Dáil Éireann.

Earlier this week, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation announced that it would be striking for at least 24 hours. The first strike will take place on 30 January, and if the dispute goes unresolved, there will be at least a further five dates of all-out strike throughout February.

The strike will see INMO members withdraw their labour for 24 hours, providing only lifesaving care and emergency response teams.

It is a deeply disturbing vista, and unless the organisation is listened to, it will shape the landscape of Ireland's healthcare system for the coming months and beyond.

And even though it is the nurses who are technically withholding their labour, it is the government we must demand solutions from.

INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha has confirmed as much, saying "The ball is in the government’s court. This strike can be averted. All it takes is for the government to acknowledge our concerns, engage with us directly, and work to resolve this issue, in a pro-active manner."

Put frankly, the INMO are not the ones taking the piss.

In their hundred year history, this will be only the second time that the organisation will have gone on strike. This stands to reason. Nurses, by definition, are people who have devoted themselves to a profession of care even though their wages will never be the highest, their hours will always be long, their work will be tense, and fraught, and stressful.

If you are opposed to pay increases for nurses, the only explanation can be that you are unfamiliar with the very concept of nurses.

These are the people who are tasked with maintaining our quality of life when we are at our most vulnerable. Responsible for administering an array of complex medical procedures to our ageing relatives, our sick parents, our dying friends.

Who in their right mind is out there thinking: "Oh, they are in charge of my health? Yes, I would like them to be overworked, unhappy, sleep-deprived and, if possible, starving."

It is well established that Ireland's healthcare system is far from fully-functioning. The long-standing trolley crisis, which had its worst year yet in 2018, is all the evidence we need for that. Other missteps around the handling of CervicvalCheck results never seem to leave the news.

Anyone who goes through the Irish public healthcare system will know that there simply aren't enough people working on the ground level for it to be good enough. There are wards closed off to the public - such as University Hospital Galway - because there aren't enough staff to man them. There are people in serious condition left waiting days to be treated because there simply aren't enough professionals to help.

Nobody knows this better than Ireland's nurses, and they have decided that drastic action is required to get this point across to anyone who doesn't understand it.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he's "saddened" that the nurses decided to strike on a weekday.

It's amazing what can make politicians sad, isn't it?

He could be sad that such an essential part of Irish society feels so undervalued that they are prepared to strike for at least six full days. Or he could be sad that there are hundreds of bodies on trolleys in hospital hallways around the country. It speaks volumes that what makes Leo Varadkar sad is the manner in which workers try to illustrate the deficiencies in our healthcare system.

Varadkar, true to form, is more concerned with nurses making him look bad than the actual substance of the situation.

Government is the art of problem solving. It requires the wisdom to identify what needs to be done and the strength of will to implement that change. Fine Gael, time and again, have shown that they cannot identify what needs to be done on their own. Varadkar's government leads from the very back of a march that it stumbled into as it passed by.

We live in an Ireland where meaningful social change only happens as the result of protest, and strike, and civil action. Whether it's constitutional referendums, homes for the homeless or appropriate pay for the vital organs of society, this government will never be the one leading the charge.

It's likely to be the same with the nurses. But the Irish public should be on the same side as its nurses, all the way. After all, Ireland needs nurses much more than it needs Fine Gael.