Nurses have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action, following an ongoing dispute over staff shortages and poor pay.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has announced that 95% of its members have voted to go on strike.
This would mark only the second time in the organisation's 100-year history that its members have undertaken national strike action. The last such strike was in 1999.
According to the INMO, staff shortages caused by low pay have left the public health service unable to recruit and retain enough nurses and midwives to safely care for patients.
It pointed out that nurses are the lowest-paid graduate professionals in the health service, and recent pay proposals made by the Government would not have affected most of them. As a result, they were rejected by 94% of INMO members back in October.
Commenting on the nurses' decision to strike, INMO president, Martina Harkin-Kelly said she does not know a single nurse or midwife who wants to strike.
"We just want to get on with the job we love, but staff shortages have made that impossible and we've reached a breaking point. We're standing up for safe staffing, fair pay, and for our patients who deserve better care. It's time for the Government to listen to frontline voices and fix this problem once and for all," she said.
Meanwhile, INMO general secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, said that this decision by nurses ‘reflects a deep frustration within the profession, which the Government cannot continue to ignore'.
"Nurses and midwives simply want to do their jobs and care for patients properly, but low pay has led to staff shortages, compromising safe care. Ireland's current haphazard approach to nurse staffing is costly and bad for patient care," she insisted.
The INMO's executive committee, which is made up of elected nurses and midwives nationwide, plans to meet on January 7 and 8 to discuss these results and decide the next steps.
This will include determining dates for 24-hour national strikes, during which time INMO members will withdraw their labour, providing only emergency and lifesaving care.