Gene Kerrigan: 'They do the work, give them rate for the job'

So, let us speak of nurses’ pay, of screaming children and the importance of “knock-on effects”.

Seems like everyone’s got their hospital story – here’s mine.

Wrapped in bandages and tapes, tubes everywhere, surrounded by things that drip and bleep, enough drugs in my veins to fly me to the moon, I was terrified.

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It’s a circumstance into which any of us might be thrust at any time.

A nurse from two days back went out of her way to come down to the ward, to lean over, smile and be reassuring. It instantly lessened the terror.

She’d certainly forgotten that moment of kindness by the end of her shift, lost in a thousand routine acts of expertise. Anyone can be kind. I could, you could, but it wouldn’t mean much.

We treasure nurses not for their kindness – they throw that in for free.

We treasure them because they are professionals, trained and equipped by hard-earned experience. We trust what they say because they know what to do, in circumstances that bewilder us.

A staff nurse will earn around €30,000, rising to maybe €45,000. With extra qualifications and specialities, she (it’s usually she) can become a top clinical nurse/midwife manager on €63,747.

This rate includes allowances that are paid not of right, but are earned by measurable work. This rate comes with experience born of years of long, tiring hours filled with tension and responsibility.

On his first day in the job (and it’s usually a he) a TD is on €94,535. Huge extra allowances and expenses come as a right. Any simple task that should be part of the job, such as chairing a committee, earns thousands extra.

Bankers are demanding that the cap on their pay (which is €500,000) must be lifted. Paschal Donohoe didn’t tell them to bugger off. He said it’s “worth reviewing”. He asked firms of “consultants” to tender for the job doing the review. The “consultants'” fee for the review is €144,000.

All around us, professionals present unchallenged bills. While nurses and others must argue for every extra cent they earn, the executive classes and their professional accomplices are paid top rates, as a birthright.

When they screw up, as they do, again and again, they’re paid off, and those who replace them are paid even more.

Recently, hordes of our “entrepreneurs” and executives paid up to €2,750 a ticket to bring the idiot Boris Johnson to Dublin to be interviewed. (Paying for the top-price ticket meant you got to shake hands with the idiot.)

Our executive class could afford, just for a bit of crack, to pay Johnson €58,000 for an hour’s “work”.

The would-be Children’s Hospital appears to have become a cash-fest for the monied classes, a vast trough into which snouts galore have been thrust.

All around us, people who contribute little take much.

There’s a hierarchy of work and value, and somewhere along the way the connection has been broken between social or economic value and the rate-for-the-job.

People doing simple work, of little economic value receive vast rewards. Those doing essential work have to plead their case.

Twenty years ago, during the last nurses’ strike, there was huge public support. Then, we got the allegedly screaming children.

After a couple of weeks, the media was full of stories about children screaming as incompetent doctors – doing the work of striking nurses – fumbled injections, leaving the poor toddlers in floods of tears.

Suddenly, the angels of mercy, the nurses we supported, had supposedly turned into callous people. They continued their strike, but public support dwindled.

Fact: doctors are rarely incompetent, they can use a needle.

Fact: I’ve never seen a child take a needle without whimpering, crying or making a fuss. (Pretty much my own reaction, to be fair.)

Fact: skilled propagandists turn normal reactions into screams.

Fact: the media fancies itself as hard-boiled, cynical, but there’s a large body of gullible, naive people in the media who are regularly played like fiddles by highly paid manipulators.

The moral and social case for increasing nurses’ pay is undeniable.

Agency nurses (private-sector workers brought in to fill gaps) are paid 20pc more than those directly employed by the state.

We pay €100m a year to agency nurses (and the agencies, which take a chunk of that). All of this makes it more difficult for the State to recruit and retain nurses.

Even Simon Harris, even Paschal Donohoe, even Leo Varadkar, would dearly love to see the nurses get their just rewards but – sorry, sorry, sorry, it can’t be done.

Because there’d be “knock-on effects”. It seems there are lots of people who are underpaid for the value of the job they do. And if the nurses win, those people will be looking for an increase.

So, in order to keep those people underpaid, we have to underpay the nurses, even though we know damn well they don’t get the rate for the job.

Well, let’s talk about knock-on effects.

There’s a knock-on effect from everything. If you pay bankers on the basis of market performance the knock-on effect is recklessness, leading to banking and economic collapse.

Allow land hoarding and repeatedly jacked-up rents, and the highest-paid people compete for properties. The knock-on effects include pricing the lower-paid out of the market.

Cease building social housing, you have a perfect storm, the knock-on effects include children living in B&Bs.

Elect a new generation of ideologically fervent politicians, ignorantly committed to a cartoon version of 19th Century economics, and the knock-on effects include manifest unfairness.

Blatantly unfair treatment of people who work hard creates social instability – or, as some of us call it, a justified fightback against greed.

The €100m a year paid to agency nurses is a knock-on effect of underpaying State nurses.

Underpay nurses, AND sooner or later the knock-on effects include a shortage of nurses, and no one’s counting the cost of that, in pain and death. The only knock-on effect that matters, it seems, is the fear that fairly paying one group of workers might encourage others to fight for fair pay.

In the meantime, as greed is amply rewarded, relatively simple tasks – such as building a hospital – become feeding frenzies for the over-paid.

Simon Harris is being punched around because he delayed revealing the explosion of costs of the Children’s Hospital.

Personally, I’d punch him for not standing over the project from the beginning – slapping away the countless hands we knew would reach to grab fistfuls of cash. Why didn’t he? Why didn’t someone?

Because, too many in power see it as the right of the monied classes to extract a profit from anything that moves. They believe this sincerely – it’s an item of faith. They believe it the way Fr Peter McVerry believes no one should sleep in a doorway.

The housing crisis, the health crisis, the explosion of money for the ruthless – these are the knock-on effects of a culture of inequality, where those who care about their work are exploited by those who care only for grabbing all they can.

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