RCN leader Pat Cullen quits to make general election bid

General secretary who led nurses into historic strike action in push for better pay seeks nomination to stand for election as an MP for Sinn Féin
Pat Cullen

General secretary who led nurses into historic strike action in push for better pay seeks nomination to stand for election as an MP for Sinn Féin

Pat Cullen
Picture: Barney Newman

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen is resigning from her union role to seek selection to be a candidate in the general election on 4 July.

Writing to members of the RCN today, Ms Cullen said it was the ‘hardest decision to make’ after achieving so much in three very ‘different and difficult years.’ She will be seeking nomination for election as an MP for Sinn Féin in the constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone in Northern Ireland.

Ms Cullen wants her legacy to be having helped the profession use its voice

Ms Cullen said RCN director of nursing Nicola Ranger take her place until a permanent appointment could be made.

‘I hope my legacy here will be to have helped the nursing profession use its voice and campaign for change, for ourselves and patients,’ she said. ‘I owe RCN members a debt of gratitude. Thank you for all the personal and professional support over the years. I will never be a stranger to this college – it will always have a very special place in my heart.’

Ms Cullen leaves the RCN after eight years, the last three of which have been spent as general secretary and chief executive, leading nurses through historical strike action in 2022 and joining them on picket lines across the country.

She added: ‘After much consideration, I have decided that now is the right time for me to step forward into the political arena to champion the issues and opportunities for the community I love, and that is what I am fully determined to do

‘This election is an opportunity to vote for a new and better future.’

A brave champion for the nursing profession, says RCN

The RCN said Ms Cullen is ‘a brave champion for the nursing profession’, adding that her ‘bold decision-making and pursuit of pay justice has resulted in huge membership growth, bolstering the RCN’s reputation and power as a force for good’.

RCN council chair Paul Vaughan said: ‘Pat has been a tremendous leader for our profession and put the college on a journey to a brighter future. She has been fearless in rooting out longstanding cultural issues internally and speaking truth to power in the health service and politics alike.’

Election takes her back where she grew up as youngest of seven children

  • Pat Cullen is the youngest of seven children and grew up in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. She qualified as a nurse in 1985, later gaining a Master’s degree in management, and working as a nurse in a variety of community and clinicals settings
  • She went on to become director of nursing at the Public Health Agency and an adviser to the Department of Health, before joining the RCN in 2016. Three years later she became the director of the college in Northern Ireland
  • The Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat is currently held by Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew, who won it by just 57 votes, the smallest majority of any constituency in the UK
  • Ms Gildernew announced last week that she will not be seeking re-election and is instead running in the European parliament elections in Ireland, making way for Ms Cullen to stand

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