RCN chief backs Northern Ireland nurses on eve of strikes

The chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has issued a video message to nursing staff in Northern Ireland ahead of a major day of industrial action due to take place in the country tomorrow.

Pat Cullen, in the video, described the situation facing nurses in Northern Ireland as “immoral” and said she backs their decision to go back on strike.

“Our nurses will not stand by and allow this to continue to happen”

Pat Cullen

RCN Northern Ireland will be joining more than a dozen other public sector trade unions in a mass walk-out over poor pay.

Up to 170,000 public servants across 15 unions are expected to strike, according to the Irish Congress of Trade Union’s Northern Ireland committee, which is coordinating the action.

Nurses are taking part to protest their ongoing lack of a pay deal for 2023-24, which means they are now lower paid than their counterparts doing the same job in all the other UK countries.

Pay talks have been hampered by the fact that Northern Ireland has been without a fully functioning devolved government for two years, due to a boycott of power-sharing arrangements by one of the main parties.

A last-ditch attempt to resolve the political impasse took place today but failed.

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The Northern Ireland secretary in the UK Government, Chris Heaton-Harris, has placed money on the table to settle the public sector pay dispute, but has said it will only be released if Stormont is restored.

A similar situation of political turmoil and pay inequality caused nurses in the country to successfully strike in 2019-20, led by Ms Cullen, who was then director of RCN Northern Ireland.

Speaking this afternoon, Ms Cullen, who is Northern Irish herself, said: “It’s immoral what’s happening to nurses in Northern Ireland; once again seeing their pay drop behind that of nurses across the other countries of the UK.

“We will support the action tomorrow. We’ll stand by other public sector workers and say our patients deserve better and the people of Northern Ireland deserve better.

“Our patients are sitting on waiting lists year after year because our NHS is crumbling at the seams. So our nurses will not stand by and allow this to continue to happen.”

She assured RCN Northern Ireland members that “the public believe in you” and that “I support you and the college supports you”.

“And I’m looking forward to seeing you again on the picket line tomorrow,” added Ms Cullen.

Health and Social Care (HSC) staff from other unions including Unison, Unite and the Royal College of Midwives are also due to strike tomorrow, alongside transport and education workers.

In a statement yesterday, the Northern Ireland committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions said it would call off the strikes if serious pay negotiations were offered.

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It said: “The trade union movement is clear, the disruption of industrial action this Thursday can be averted.

“If the money is made available and negotiations begin, we stand ready to engage.”

  • Nursing Times will be bringing you full coverage of the strikes in Northern Ireland tomorrow including interviews with nurses from the picket lines.

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