Nurses: We will not be backing down

11.30 am, Friday morning last, and there’s a strange sight outside one of Roscommon’s great landmark buildings.    Dozens of nurses, male and female, are marching defiantly, placards in hand, this sight of nurses chanting slogans, engaging in a work stoppage, as rare as hot weather in April.    Well, actually, there was hot weather too last Friday. It added to the slight surrealness. So too did the blaring music. ‘We’re on the one road’ by The Wolfe Tones. A few honking car horns — by no means a crescendo — added further noise.    The mood was good-humoured. Press folk were there in sizeable numbers, perched on walls, mingling, enjoying the sun, notebooks and cameras at hand. There was a political presence too, but not of a Government hue, at least not while the People was there. Particularly visible were Deputy Denis Naughten, Senator Frank Feighan (both Fine Gael) and Leitrim Sinn Fein Cllr. Martin Kenny. Deputy Naughten even marched at one point.    ‘Patient for too long’ were the words on one banner. ‘Overworked and underpaid’ was emblazoned on another. The nurses were in determined mood.    Aideen Banet is a staff nurse at Roscommon County Hospital. She works in the High Dependency area and has been working in the local facility since 2001. "I work twelve-hour shifts, from 7.45 until 8.15 (with half an hour for lunch)" she told the People.     The shifts, Aideen said, are long and demanding. Nurses, she points out, now have a lot of documention to deal with, more than ever before, and much of it has legal implications.    Aideen says nurses have "had enough" and must hold out now for better working conditions and increased pay.    Nurses at Roscommon County Hospital are "very, very determined" and united in their approach to the action being taken.    She said that the pay demands are reasonable as nurses just want to be treated like people on other grades within the Health Service. As she spoke, her colleagues chanted ‘What do we want?’ before answering: ’35 hours.’    ‘When do we want it?’    ‘Now!’    ‘Defiant’ is the word that would best describe the union speakers present.    The nurses were praised for their dignity. The Government and HSE were attacked for their "propaganda." Tommy Mulry, representing Roscommon Mental Health Services, said that Bertie (Ahern) and Mary (Harney) would have to listen, as the nurses were in this for the long haul.    Another speaker said that propaganda about nurses’ wages had to be exposed. There had been mistruths about nurses’ salaries. If they could find a nurse who is on €55,000 a year they’d get a picture of her and put it in the paper. "If we’re not entitled (to a pay increase) tell us now, if we are, tell us when," he said to loud applause.    It was stressed that the nurses will fight for as long as it takes, but that they would not respond to taunting or provocation and would not desert patients. Instead, they would continue their protest on whatever scale was necessary, and do so with dignity, unity and stamina.    Management at the hospital later confirmed that there had been no major disruption to services during the work stoppage. Aideen Banet said there had been no cancellations of surgery and "no complaints at all" from management.    Aideen said that she and her colleagues were delighted with the turnout on the day, with support coming from colleagues across the region. "There are retired surgeons here" she said proudly.    She was quite happy to see the nurses’ action become an election issue, she added.      Outside the Hospital doors, a few patients stood in their bedclothes, cigarettes in hand, watching from a distance.    "We have had great support from patients" Aideen Banet said. Then she gathered a few placards with colleagues, before drifting in the direction of work.    Aideen had a firm parting shot as the circle of media, nurses and politicians unravelled like a unleashed ball of wool.    "We will not be backing down".