People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett has accused Taoiseach Micheál Martin of "insulting" student nurses by "refusing to pay them" for working in the Covid-19 pandemic.

Deputy Boyd Barrett asserted that the "final insult" came yesterday when the Cabinet signed off on an "unbelievable" proposal to increase pensions for former taoisigh and senior civil servants.

The Dún Laoghaire TD said this was "simply shocking" and "beyond belief" given that he had received "dozens and dozens of testimonies" from student nurses working with people infected with Covid-19 and their families.

In reply, Mr Martin said: "I don't insult people."

Regarding the testimony from student nurses read out by Deputy Boyd Barrett, the Taoiseach said: "If that happened, it's a scandal and should not have happened."

He added that the student had been "exploited."

However, Mr Martin called on Mr Boyd Barrett to "send those cases into the HSE" so that they could be investigated and dealt with.

Regarding student nurses' pay, he contended that if the deputy wanted to go back to the "apprenticeship model" it would be a "retrograde step."

Fianna Fáil TD for Offaly, Barry Cowen, told RTÉ's Late Debate tonight that it was a "mistake" on the part of the Government to vote against the motion to pay student nurses and midwives.

He also said the situation "can be retrieved".

Earlier in the Dáil, Taoiseach Micheál Martin also spoke about the Cabinet's decision to sign off on reversing  pension cuts to retired taoisigh, ministers and top civil servants.

He contended the Government "had no legal option" but to sign off on the deal because it was "the longest you can put it off".

He appealed for People Before Profit to show "a bit of honestly" rather than always playing "the divisive card."

Deputy Boyd Barrett replied saying that "no one" should be receiving increases in their pensions, adding: "Do not spin that nonsense and try to deflect from your shocking proposal."

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that student nurses and midwives do the hardest work in understaffed and overstretched hospitals.

She said many of them have held the hands of dying Covid-19 patients.

They have been the glue that has held the already strained health service together, Ms McDonald said.

She said the Government's reason for not paying students nurses is bogus when it had "coughed up big money" for judges and retired politicians.

The Taoiseach said Sinn Féin had campaigned to reverse the cuts to incomes for all public servants including judges and politicians.

Mr Martin said this was something that legally had to be done before the end of the year.

He said the cases of first-year student nurses working in hospitals should be investigated.

No hospital should allow first-year nurses to treat Covid-19 patients, the Taoiseach said.

He added that the Government was not refusing to pay anyone and a review of student nurses' allowances would allow for higher payments.

Additional reporting Mícheál Lehane