Minister for Health James Reilly was greeted with silence when he arrived at the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation conference in Co Donegal.

There was a small amount of heckling during his speech, but delegates clapped when the minister announced the establishment of the post of chief nursing officer at the Department of Health.

He said the new post will give a clear voice to nurses and midwives.

There was muted clapping as the minister left the hall, but a section of the audience began shouting "no more cuts".

Yesterday, delegates voted for a ballot of members on industrial action, up to and including strike action, if the Government seeks to impose pay or other cuts.

The emergency motion also gave union officials the go-ahead to continue to explore alternatives to the Croke Park II proposals.

When asked afterwards about the motion, Minister Reilly said he did not want to say anything that would cause the situation to deteriorate.

The minister said talks are ongoing and he did not want to deal with a hypothetical situation.

He said he will explore every available opportunity and avenue to get a resolution, but he said he had to remind people that the Government is not in a position to be borrowing €1bn more every month to pay wages.

Minister Reilly also said he has spoken with the nurse whom he earlier told to "stick to the day job" after she sang "no more cuts" at him.

He said he did not intend to offend anyone with his "quip".