The coalition government in Dublin has come under fire for agreeing to increase wages and pensions for judges and politicians while refusing to pay student nurses.
Student nurses, who receive a weekly allowance of only €50 and are barred from holding second jobs, have “held the hands of dying Covid patients”, the Dublin parliament heard this week.
Both Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and Solidarity-PBP TD Richard Boyd-Barrett noted the student nurses often feed, dress and care for patient, while forced to live in poverty.
The Taoiseach Micheál Martin said his government is “not refusing to pay anybody” and a review of allowances will be finalised by the end of this month and “will result in higher allowances for student nurses”.
However, Mr Boyd Barrett called on him to pay students the healthcare assistant rate, which they had done at the start of the pandemic.
Ms McDonald pointed to the testimonies of student nurses who do “the hardest work” on wards and are often on their feet for 13-hour days. She accused him of breaking his promises to those on placement in hospitals.
“Last Wednesday, your government voted against paying student nurses and midwives, you then justified this decision by saying that they don’t get paid because they don’t do real work.
“We’re standing here today talking about student nurses working without pay on the same day that you will increase pay for super junior ministers and judges.
“These aren’t normal times the ask of student nurses is always incredible, but it is extraordinary during a pandemic,” she said.
Ms McDonald shared some of the messages she had received from student nurses, including one from ‘Rebecca’ who she said “lives at home, unable to afford student housing and she comes home every night from work fearful that she has contracted the virus and could pass it on to her immuno-compromised dad.”
Sinead, another student nurse, detailed how she has sat with women who are crying because their baby has been feeding all night. “We are the ones who hold their hands and tell them everything will be ok. We are the ones who cry with them,” Ms McDonald said.
Despite claims that there is no money for student nurses, the Cabinet this week signed off on increases on pay for judges ranging up to more than €4,000.
Ministers also gave their consent to an increased allowance for the party whips, who act as convenors for their parties in the Dáil. And former Taoisigh are set to get a €17,000 yearly increase on their pensions as part of pay restoration measures agreed at Cabinet.
The pay and benefit increases are among those issued to over 4,000 of the country’s highest-paid civil servants – despite continuing cuts to Covid emergency payments.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said there is “never a good time” to announce pay increases for the well off.
“If this happened next week or the week after I have no doubt we’d be accused of trying to hide it before Christmas,” he said.