A Government plan to provide annual leave to healthcare workers, in recognition of their hard work during the Covid-19 pandemic, could be spread out over two years.

RTÉ News understands that the coalition's desire is to deal with the matter in 2021, but recognises it may be necessary to extend the plan into 2022.

Speaking in New York today, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said rewards of recognition might not be limited to healthcare workers - and there could be a combination of approaches including the possibility of monetary rewards or time in lieu.

He declared that ''real, detailed announcements will be made on Budget Day" but added there were limits to what the Government can do.

Earlier today, Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath told the Dáil that the cost associated with rewarding healthcare workers with 10 days' leave, as lodged by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation and other health worker unions, would cost "at least €377m".

The minister added when you include the cost of overtime and agency staff to cover the leave "the cost would almost certainly exceed half a billion euro".

If this was extended to across the public sector, he said, the bill would exceed €1 billion.

Minister McGrath said the Government wants to reward those who "went beyond the call of duty", but must do this in a "balanced and inclusive way".

Unions representing healthcare workers appeared before the Labour Court on Monday last week in an effort to secure recognition, in the form of a once-off payment or extra leave, for their work during the Covid-19 crisis.

The unions argued that Ireland is out of step with other European countries where staff have already seen formal acknowledgement of their efforts during the pandemic.

But today, the Taoiseach said that with further engagement, a proper resolution can be found to reflect those that "did so much for us during the pandemic".

Micheál Martin signalled his support for frontline workers across all sectors including retail.

The Government said it is keen to reward those who "went beyond the call of duty" and ''that is something we are working towards," according to the Taoiseach.

He said 6,000 extra personnel were recruited across the healthcare system last year.

"We want to get this right, we want to be inclusive and that is why there is a process under way," he said.

"I can assure you it will be about action and not words," Mr Martin added.

He said there are ways and means of capturing the contribution that different sectors have made during the pandemic.

Earlier, Minister McGrath praised "the heroic efforts of frontline healthcare workers", saying that it does "warrant special recognition from the Government".

"There are many others across the public service who did great work", as there are in the private sector, he said.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, the minister said that the Government aims to give special recognition to the contribution of frontline healthcare workers in a way that is consistent with social solidarity and ensures that "we do not exit the pandemic in a divisive way".

Minister McGrath said that while there is a lot of complexity involved in reaching an agreement, the Government will do so in the coming weeks.

The minister paid tribute to the work of frontline healthcare workers who he said "went beyond the call of duty and were outstanding…sometimes in incredibly challenging circumstances".

He said that the Government and Health Service Executive will engage intensively with workers representatives in the coming weeks to reach an agreement, in line with the Labour Court recommendation.

He said the cost of the final bill for a bonus is under discussion.

He said many other frontline workers including bus drivers, prison officers, gardaí, members of the Defence Forces and people working in public social welfare offices also played a huge role.