The head of Northern Ireland's biggest nursing trade union has confirmed planned strike action for later this month will be suspended if "things go to plan" with a restored Executive.
Pat Cullen, director of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), welcomed yesterday evening's announcement that Sinn Féin has backed a deal to re-enter powersharing, which came on the third day of strike action by thousands of her members over a pay dispute and staffing levels.
Speaking to The Irish News shortly after the breakthrough, Ms Cullen said the pledge to give nurses pay parity following unprecedented walkouts was "testament" to those members.
But she warned there was "some way to go" in relation to "safe staffing".
The draft Executive deal proposes an extra 900 nursing and midwifery student places over the next three years to address severe workforce shortages, with the system having almost 3,000 unfilled nursing jobs.
"Earlier today I visited picket lines and there was hope and optimism - they really wanted to see this deal pushed over the line. Now they had that hope delivered," Ms Cullen said.
"If things go according to plan and we get a health minister in place over the weekend, we will seeking an urgent meeting with that minister. And if we have something formal to put to our members, depending on that progress we will absolutely be engaging with our members with a view to being able to suspend our next strike action."
Thousands of healthcare workers and nurses from Unison also took in yesterday's walkouts.
However, Unison secretary general Patricia McKeown said she would not commit to withdrawing her members from further strike action.
"A deal being agreed is extremely good news but we cannot take anything for granted. We are very pleased to get health to the top of the agenda in the draft deal but it does not mean we're calling industrial action off," she said.
"We expect to be contacted over the weekend and for an offer to be put on the table on pay parity. But we will also expect a lot more than that including addressing the thousand of workforce vacancies."
By Seanín Graham
Northern Ireland news
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