Vivienne Phelan, Fine Gael candidate in Laois.
The country's biggest health service trade unions has hit back at comments of a Laois local election candidate.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has taken the unusual step of commenting on a political matter following comments by Vivienne Phelan.
Ms Phelan said in a tweet last Monday, April 8 that she was “fed up hearing about student nurses and their payment for placement”.
“Vet students complete a lot of placement. Lots of travel costs. Lots of accommodation costs. No pay. Keeping up with the rent in Dublin at the same time. Not possible to get a part-time job, unlike nurses.”
The INMO did not agree.
“The remarks are disappointing. Student nurses and midwives work incredibly hard and often face placements which are very far from their homes or places of study,” an INMO spokesperson said.
Vivienne Phelan, a vet from Stradbally, is running in her first local election for Fine Gael in the Portarlington Graiguecullen Municipal District.
After provoking a huge number of mainly disapproving replies on social media, Ms Phelan appeared to backtrack in another tweet on Thursday, April 11, which stopped short of an apology.
“I don't think my earlier tweet struck the right tone. I recently qualified as a vet and I'm all too familiar with the challenges vet students face. However, I shouldn't have compared two different professions that have different demands. No offence was intended.”
However, Ms Phelan, who declined to be interviewed, took to Facebook on Sunday.
“I am not afraid to raise difficult issues. I understand that nursing students work hard. I understand different professions have different challenges and each placement will have different expectations.
“However, student nurses receive a payment of approximately €14,000 for their final year clinical placement of 36 weeks in duration.”
She said student teachers, occupational therapists, dentists, doctors, vets are paid nothing. She said many on these courses have additional requirements which place considerable expense and financial hardship on students.
“During the recent nurses' strike, we heard that nurses wanted pay parity in line with other health professionals. However, when I raised this inconvenient truth regarding student pay parity I received a range of online abuse.
“I would have been happy to robustly debate this matter, to hear information, experiences and opinions from all sides and to let people know what was required of me as a student vet during my placements. Unfortunately, the thread descended to such a level of abuse I felt it was no longer the appropriate forum to do so.
“It is ironic that many of the nasty comments and personal attacks have come from professionals who in their jobs are advocates for wellness and positive mental health, but think it acceptable to leave that to one side on social media. “I am inviting anyone I meet for the remainder of this campaign to question me on this issue. I would very much welcome face-to-face discussion on this, or indeed any issue,” she said. She thanks everyone who sent supportive messages and looked forward to continuing her campaign to be a voice for her local community. When contacted by the Leinster Express she said that aside from her social media comments, she had “no further comment to make.”
She said the “level of abuse” stopped her from replying online, and that she is still continuing her election campaign visiting houses.
“I would very much welcome face-to-face discussion on this, or indeed any issue,” Ms Phelan said.
The Facebook group Support for Nurses, Midwives and Frontline Staff in Ireland was among those who was critical of her statements.
"Her tweet is an absolute disgrace especially at a time when understaffing and overcrowding is at an all-time high as a direct result of so many nurses and midwives being forced to emigrate".
" Don't anger those who you need to get you elected Vivienne! There is a hospital in Portlaoise with many of the staff living in Laois. Thankfully, you've just lost their votes, Vivienne," the group posted.
A 3rd year nurse was among the many commenters.
“I have worked 85 hours over the past 9 days both days & nights! 60 were unpaid. I have no choice but to work part-time to survive & pursue my lifelong dream of helping others. I will remember your comment at election time”.
“Wow, impressive. With one tweet you committed political suicide. And your political career hasn't even begun,” said another.
The Save Portlaoise Hospital Again group also criticised Ms Phelan’s tweets.
“Due to the increasing crisis the health service is facing, student nurses have had to take on more and more responsibilities and are now counted as part of the staffing numbers... rostered students sometimes replacing an actual staff nurse,” the group said.
“How dare this person pass comment about how fed up she is about students voicing concerns and standing up for themselves. Apologise wholeheartedly or don’t tweet at all,” they said.