The Taoiseach has told the Dáil that the Government would do its best to avoid industrial action planned by nurses and midwives.

However, Leo Varadkar also said that it would not be "fair or affordable" to offer a special deal for one group in health service.

"We will try to avoid it. We will do our best to avoid it," Mr Varadkar told Sinn Féin's finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty. 

He said that he is very aware that the ballots of 95% in favour of strike action by the two nursing unions were "very decisive" and that reflects the depth of feeling among nurses.

He also said there was an engagement today involving employers and unions and a further meeting on Friday involving the oversight committee of the Public Sector Pay Deal, including the Department of Public Expenditure and the Department of Health.

However, Mr Varadkar also told the Dáil that there was already a pay deal in place which runs until 2020.

"It wouldn't be fair or affordable to offer a special deal for one group in the public service and then say to every other group in the public service that we have no money left for you. That wouldn't be right," he said. 

Mr Doherty told the Taoiseach that his Government had continually ignored the concerns articulated by nurses in recent years. 

"You have had years to address the recruitment and retention crisis in our hospitals. We see how this is crippling our health service. 

"Nurses, midwives and their unions have continually sought engagement with the Minister for Health and the Minister for Finance to address the problem staff shortages and the issues of pay to avert but there concerns have been routinely ignored by your Government." 

"In fact what has happened is they have been verbally attacked, they have been threatened and insulted as they have tried to go about achieving a resolution," Mr Doherty added.