State cannot afford nurses’ pay claim, says Taoiseach

Department of Public Expenditure says average pay for nurses is €57,000

Conceding the pay claim lodged by nurses would cost the exchequer €600-900 million every year because of inevitable knock-on claims by other unions across the public service, the Taoiseach has said, amid hardening attitudes in Government and the growing expectations of a nurses’ strike in the New Year.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil other unions had indicated to the Government that if the nurses’ claim was agreed, they would immediately lodge their related pay claims, effectively ending the current national wage agreement.

Mr Varadkar said that conceding the claim would cost the exchequer “four or five billion euros” over a 4-5 year period “and we just do not have that kind of money”.

“We have a real difficulty with the current pay claim and we need to be honest and upfront with the country about that,” Mr Varadkar said.


Members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) backed strike action by 95 per cent in a ballot counted on Tuesday. Psychiatric nurses have already voted for industrial action up to and including strikes.

The union is now expected to stage a number of 24-hour stoppages in hospitals across the country.

Nurses are currently campaigning for an across-the-board pay increase to address recruitment and retention difficulties in the health service, which the department says amounts to a 12 per cent pay increase.

The Taoiseach was answering questions from People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith who said the state should give the €600 million it will receive from the liquidation of the IBRC bank to the nurses “to sort out their pay claim”.

Mr Varadkar said: “A pay rise is not just one-off. A pay rise is recurring; it has to happen every year.”

Mr Varadkar’s comments come as Government sources say there is a growing sense in the administration that the nurses’ claim will have to be rejected, with a strike the likely outcome.

In response to questions from The Irish Times, the Department of Public Expenditure later released figures which show that average pay for nurses is €57-58,000 a year when allowances and premium payments are included.

It also said 83 per cent of nurses and midwives earn over €40,000 in basic salary, excluding allowances.

The department also said nurses and midwives receive starting salaries of €37,000 when allowances and premium payments are included.

“Conceding the pay claim being pursued by nurses would cost upward of €400m; €300m (12% pay increase) and €120m (reduced working hours for professional development) per annum,” the department said. “It would undermine the current collective agreement and inevitably generate knock on pay claims from the rest of the public service workforce.”

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times