More than 4,000 representatives of 70,000 nurses, Gardai (police), firefighters and prison officers have signaled that emergency personnel are prepared to take industrial action to protect their pay.
An angry rally at the National Basketball Stadium in Tallaght, Dublin on Monday attracting 1,500 more delegates than anticipated laid down a firm warning that front-line workers have had enough of pay cuts in Ireland’s battle to beat the recession.
The government wants them to take another €1 billion in cuts over the next three years, and wants to add to their working hours for no extra pay.
The anger of those present at the rally was not confined to the government. There was strong criticism of the leaders of the trade union movement who are currently engaged with public service management on a proposed new deal.
General Secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organization Liam Doran urged those present to tell their local politicians that if they want to be elected again they must support the campaign against the frontline pay cuts. The meeting also heard warnings of possible industrial action.
General Secretary of the Prison Officers Association John Clinton told the meeting that public representatives must realize “there will be trouble ahead if an equitable solution is not found.”
He warned against punishing those who had already made a massive contribution.
John Parker, president of the Garda Representative Association which represents rank-and-file members of the force, confirmed his organization would commence low-level actions such as not using their personal equipment for official duties. He warned this action could be increased incrementally.
“The options are vast, including the full nuclear option. If you do not want to pay us for Saturday night and cut our allowances, we will not be working on Saturday night,” he said.
John Kidd of the Irish Fire and Emergency Services Association said that if the government wanted to test the resolve of his members, there would be no emergency cover provided by the fire service in any dispute.
The emotive gathering saw hundreds of nurses wearing T-shirts saying they would rather emigrate than take further wage cuts.
Delegates heard rallying calls for those unions that are still engaged in talks to renegotiate the Croke Park Agreement to walk away and join in the protests.
Seamus Murphy, deputy general secretary of the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA), said it was “incomprehensible” that other trade unions were “in cahoots” with the government to break the original Croke Park deal, which secured public sector workers’ pay and allowances.
He accused the government of reneging on the original pay deal “with the complicity of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.”
Government sources said that ministers were holding firm in plans to cut premium payments for frontline staff in the public service, despite the major protest.