The Secretary General of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association said the issues referred to the Labour Court by the Health Service Executive are not covered by the Croke Park Agreement.

Martin Varley said the issues relate to patient safety and patient care.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, he said that describing them as "working conditions" is not appropriate.

Mr Varley cited the HSE's proposal to reduce days off for consultants from five to two in a 28-day period as an example of one of the issues that does not fall under Croke Park.

The IHCA has refused to appear before a Labour Court hearing this Thursday.

Mr Varley said: "Basically what we have is the HSE throwing two or three issues into the Labour Court which shouldn't be discussed at all.

"They're not covered by Croke Park and in fact there are real concerns about patient safety, patient care and even safety of consultants.

"You can't expect any professional nowadays to be on call every night, every weekend, in additional to their normal work for 26 days out of 28."

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin has warned consultants that their pay and conditions are only guaranteed as long as they are bound by the Croke Park Agreement.

Speaking on his way into Government Buildings this morning, Mr Howlin said that he expected people who were invited by the Labour Court to turn up and he expected all unions to fully comply with that.

He said he had listened with concern to the views of the consultants and wished to remind them that they were part of a collective agreement that could not be unpicked by either side without agreement.