Sunday, May 10, 2009

Conference and "Craic" in Killarney

I have spent the past three days in Killarney at the Irish Nurses Organisation's Annual Delegate Conference ( or INO ADC -we prefer acronyms for brevity!) The conference took place at one of the largest conference venues in the country, the Gleneagle Hotel and Conference Centre, which makes it about the fourth time I've been there in recent years. Killarney and Cavan's Slieve Russel Hotel are about the only two venues outside of Dublin's Citywest that can accomodate the 350-odd delegates under one roof.

Liam Doran, INO Secretary General.

There are plenty of conference centres big enough but not many that can house us all, which is one of the bonuses of the INO conference, as I have been to others like the Labour Party conferences where we've had to find a B&B nearby. Nothing ruins the ambience of the evening more than the prospect of heading out in the rain and cold (usually!) inadequately clad in party attire and probably killer heels to head back to the often cold dark confines of a B&B at 3 a.m. This usually entails either waiting in the hotel lobby for ages for a taxi and missing the fun in the hotel bar, or having to abstain all evening as the designated driver if you decide to bring the car - not that I'm a mad drinker but I like a glass of wine with my dinner and a Bailey's afterwards, and wouldn't risk driving after even one glass, though I might be technically under the Irish limit.

This event is a good opportunity to meet up with colleagues from around the country and there is a social aspect to the conference as well as very full days of talks, debates on the various motions submitted by the branches and sections. I am in the Waterford branch and also the PHN (Public Health Nurse) section, so there is a wide range of interest for me along with the broader policy and national issues.

The state of the economy underpinned practically every debate at the conference as the cutbacks in health have such far-reaching impact. In earlier posts I have alluded to these, and things are not getting better. So while the INO might be seen as only dealing with members' pay and conditions, which of course is any trade unions' remit, it also highlights the patient advocacy role of nurses, and indeed the conference theme was patient safety.

The conference debated the impact of cutbacks and their many adverse human and economic consequences. The fact that there will be few if any jobs for the newly graduating nurses, many of whom will emigrate demonstrates this as a poor investment return for Ireland - it costs about €80,000 to train a nurse over 4 college years - and if they leave never to return it doesn't make economic sense. The Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney, spoke yesterday and got a fairly cool if polite reception. Her support for increasing privatisation of the health services in Ireland is strongly opposed by the INO as it will only worsen the existing inequity in our unique two-tier public-private healthcare system. Healthcare has to be based on the patient's needs, not ability to pay, and this should be fundamental to any civilised country.

A number of delegates took time to support colleagues in Killarney Community Hospital who had a lunchtime protest against the loss of a senior nursing post in their hospital. They are a small hospital and it was a good morale boost to have 3 busloads of delegates join them on the picket line for an hour and hopefully the accompanying media spotlight will help their cause.

Some of the Waterford branch members - Mary, Kerry, Claire and myself.
The weather was dreadful for most of the conference, but as we were in a bubble for most of the time in a huge hall with no natural light we didn't really mind. It was nice to go for a swim in the leisure centre at the end of the day, and we enjoyed the "craic" or fun of the social evenings. There was a fun table quiz on the first night, which raised over €1,000 for a Cambodian street childrens' charity that a Killarney nurse is involved with. The questions, set by Dave Hughes, the deputy Gen. Sec., were often cryptic and raised much laughter, and a clever delegate incorporated many of them the following day when speaking to her branch's motion!
The food was excellent and we all overindulged, force-fed like Gascogny geese - a detox for the next week or so seems very appealing right now. We danced to local musicians on two evenings, and were entertained after the lastnight's gala dinner by comedian Alan Shortt of RTE's Bull Island fame, who did some very funny impersonations of various politicians. This year is the INO's 90th Anniversary which is certainly a cause for celebration; from very small beginnings to a union with over 40,000 members is no mean feat. They had a wonderful cake to mark the anniversary (see above photo) and a DVD with the history of the organisation from 1919-2009. Hope I'll be around for the Centenary celebrations - and not pensioned off !

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