Political Notebook: Government exploiting grad nurses

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A RECENT RTE television news item about the forced exodus of members of a Donegal family brought home in graphic detail the resumption of our wretched emigration history.

A RECENT RTE television news item about the forced exodus of members of a Donegal family brought home in graphic detail the resumption of our wretched emigration history.

Their story had that awful familiarity. The young people were going because they could not get work in Ireland.

The father spoke of his distress. The mother wiped away tears.

So here we go again.

Some of those living relatively insulated lives in Leinster House seem incapable of grasping this social reality.

Why, otherwise, would this Government attempt to exploit young graduate nurses, pushing them towards the emigrant plane if they resist?

It is clear that well paid Ministers are already beginning to suffer from that withdrawal from reality which was the hallmark of the Governments that presided over the ill-fated Celtic Tiger.

Graduate nurses are being asked to accept 20 per cent less than the normal starting salary. The take-up for the posts is believed to be abysmal. In fact, it is so bad that the HSE and the Government are not prepared to say publicly just how many graduate nurses have applied for the jobs.

So much for openness, transparency and accountability!

Where, now, the new politics and the promise to let us know what is going on?

It is nothing short of pathetic that this Government has not enough backbone to admit that only a handful of graduate nurses are applying for jobs at a time of mass unemployment.

The Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly, is not the only Minister responsible for this shabby attempt at exploitation.

All Ministers, from the Taoiseach down, are party to it. That is what collective Cabinet responsibility is all about.

And it was pathetic to see the second in charge, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, attempt to defend it recently in the Dail. Mr Gilmore gave a less than surefooted performance.

His body language was negative, as he attempted to bluster and spoof his way out of reasonable and well-put Opposition questions.

Mr Gilmore is a former trade union official who would have stood up for the marginalised and exploited in his time. Frankly, it was rather sad to see him, as Tanaiste and leader of the Labour party, attempt to defend the indefensible on this issue.

If Mr Gilmore was still in Opposition, he would be shouting from the metaphorical rooftops about the injustice of it all. So, by the way, would another former trade union official in this Government, one Pat Rabbitte.

Mr Gilmore’s response was pathetic.

He said: “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 rather than coming in here and complaining about it.”

Echoes, indeed, of “let them eat cake.”

Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald put it all in perspective. She said that in London, a graduate nurse would earn the equivalent of 38,900 euro and, farther afield, he or she would earn the equivalent of 40,000 euro and more.

She added: “The Government is cynically engineering a situation where young highly qualified graduates will earn 22,000 euro a year. “I need not say the contrast this makes with the Tanaiste’s pay packet and that of many others throughout the public service and Civil Service.”

Indeed.

And what had the Tanaiste to say about Dr Reilly’s reported remarks?

Dr Reilly, apparently, had said that nurses and midwives unhappy with the initiative could emigrate or opt to work in fast-food outlets.

Mr Gilmore dodged the question.

The crying need for ongoing public service reform is obvious. But it should not be about the exploitation of those at the frontline who are not enjoying, and never will, the largesse dispensed to the higher echelons in the public service in the so-called good old days.

At the weekend, it emerged the State is paying out more than 10 million euro each year in pensions to 103 retired public servants. The payments are in excess of 100,000 euro annually.

That is all a long way from the nurse, graduate or otherwise, run off their feet in a health service under huge pressure.

And it all contrasts with the manner in which this Government moved to break the pay guidelines for some of their special advisers when they sought an increase.

Meanwhile, a new TD will make his or her way into the Dail following the Meath East by-election caused by the death of the estimable Shane McEntee.

So the question must be asked: will than new TD be asked to accept 20 per cent in income less than those elected at the last general election?

Not on your life! That would be unthinkable. Leinster House treating one of their own like that?

You must be joking!

It is so much easier to target young graduate nurses who are required in this country and might be saved from forced emigration if they were treated decently.