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Nursing strike may expand across public sector, says Taoiseach

The nursing dispute may escalate to other parts of the public sector, the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned.

Nurses are due to begin industrial action on January 30 over pay and conditions.

Under questioning in the Dáil today Mr Varadkar said there will be further engagement with the INMO after meetings were held yesterday adding that the Government will do "all that we can" to avoid strike action.

However, Mr Varadkar said that pay increases are not affordable and could lead to more claims from other public sector workers.

Responding to Solidarity-PBP TD Mick Barry, Mr Varadkar said: "You have said that it is your analysis that this dispute could lead to knock-on claims across the public service and I think your analysis may well be correct, but that would lead us with a bill of billions of euro, certainly hundreds of millions of euro in pay increases and that is not something we could afford."

Mr Varadkar said a pay deal is already in place for all public servants that runs until 2020 and which provides for pay increases between now and then.

The Taoiseach added: "Strike action occurring mid-week will have a very significant impact on patients, it will be necessary to wind down activities probably from the middle of the day on Tuesday and things may not get back to normal until some time on Thursday.

"So it will result in thousands of operations being cancelled, will result in thousands of patients not getting the appointment with the specialist they wish to see for a very very long time and that, of course, is something we want to avoid."

He said even if the strike is cancelled at the last minute it may be too late to reschedule appointments and procedures again and so asked that the action be avoided sooner rather than later.

Mr Barry accused the Taoiseach of trying to "play up" the inconvenience the strike would cause to patients.

Calling for pay increases for nurses, he told the Dáil that nurses are paid 20% more in the private sector.

"If there is any discomfort or inconvenience or worse to patients, as a result, it will be as a result of the hard line taken by the Taoiseach and this Government," he said.