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Looking back on heartbreaks and the triumphs of 2014

They all hit the headlines in the past 12 months - whether for dealing with tragedy, facing down racist thugs, bringing a world title to Belfast, or taking on the Government on behalf of vulnerable people. Amanda Ferguson talks to the newsmakers of the year.

Leona Knox

The mother of Oscar Knox, the five-year-old Newtownabbey boy who touched the hearts of people across Northern Ireland before his tragic death in May, has spoken movingly about her loss.

Leona Knox, her husband, Stephen, and their daughter, Izzie, have spent their first Christmas without "Wee Oscar" who fought a long battle with the aggressive childhood cancer neuroblastoma.

Oscar was never far from the headlines in 2014, as his family and supporters raised awareness of the condition - as well as thousands of pounds for charity.

The outpouring of public support since Oscar's death has brought the Knox family comfort as they try to pick up the pieces of their lives.

Leona told the Belfast Telegraph of the magnitude of her loss - and how proud the whole family is of Oscar and all that he achieved in his too-short life.

"We saw other families who had lost a child say that their heart was broken into a million pieces - and that's exactly what it feels like," Leona said.

"Right now, we are trying to pick up some of those pieces and make some sort of life for ourselves again. But we will never get over losing Oscar. All we can do is try to find ways to cope without him in our lives.

"We have had wonderful support from the Children's Hospice and Northern Ireland Cancer Fund for Children in trying to do that.

"Everything that Oscar achieved in his short life is so much more than we ever will in our lifetimes. We are immensely proud of him.

"We only wish we could have saved him and kept him with us, but neuroblastoma can be an incredibly aggressive cancer and it just couldn't be defeated."

Leona has a message for other families forced to cope with a childhood cancer diagnosis and said all those who suffered bereavement this year are in her thoughts.

"Our hearts go out to every family with childhood cancer in their lives at this time. We are also thinking of all the beautiful, brave children that have been taken by this awful disease in 2014."

Team Oscar Forever continues to raise funds to support children experiencing health battles.

To make a donation to the Northern Ireland Children's Hospice and the haematology unit at The Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, go to www.justgiving.com/oscarknox/

Anna Lo

Anna Lo nearly left Northern Ireland for good earlier this year after suffering racist abuse and becoming disillusioned with politics.

The Alliance Party MLA - the UK's first parliamentarian from the Chinese community - was considering quitting Belfast following comments by north Belfast pastor James McConnell, who said he did not trust Muslims.

DUP leader and First Minster Peter Robinson later said remarks he made in support of the pastor were misinterpreted.

"When I read Peter Robinson's comments about Muslims, I could not hide my anger at his use of such offensive language which had the potential to damage community relations," said Ms Lo.

"We have seen a rise in racist incidents in 2014, so I could not believe that the leader of a political party would say such things.

"It was very apparent in my subsequent interviews how strongly I felt about what he had said and my concerns about the level of racist incidents in Northern Ireland, which I myself had suffered."

She contemplated leaving Northern Ireland permanently, but reconsidered after receiving widespread public support.

"I was heartened by the hundreds of messages of kind support that I received, including so many bouquets of flowers that my office resembled a florist's shop."

A highlight of the Alliance politician's year was the Rally Against Racism in the centre of Belfast.

"We saw thousands of people attend a rally against racism at Belfast City Hall and I was honoured to speak to the crowd.

"It gave me great hope that so many people had taken time out of their busy lives to show that they wanted the Northern Ireland Executive to take action on racism." Ms Lo is hopeful that progress will be made in 2015 on race issues and that society will be more harmonious.

"There is still a lot of work to be done," she said.

"After years of delays, the First and deputy First Ministers finally published the draft racial equality strategy.

"A consultation did take place in the autumn, but the strategy as currently drafted must be radically strengthened and fully implemented with the necessary resources it requires to eradicate racism."

Carl Frampton

It has been an incredible year for north Belfast boxer Carl Frampton.

"The Jackal" won the IBF super-bantamweight title against Kiko Martinez at a purpose-built 16,000-seater outdoor arena in the Titanic Quarter in September and his son, Rossa, was born last month.

Carl, from Tiger's Bay, told the Belfast Telelgraph he had been dreaming about being a world champion since he was a little boy.

"It was some night," he said. "I knew as the final bell went that I had done enough to win. It was a hard fight, but I knew I had won it.

"It was great feeling. I was relieved, because there was so much pressure on me beforehand. I had already beaten this guy [Martinez] and people were kind of assuming it was going to be an easy fight and I was going to walk through him. But I knew that wasn't going to be the case."

"I can finally call myself a world champion. Once you win a world title, you can call yourself a world champion for the rest of your life."

Barry McGuigan and his sons Shane and Jake guided Frampton to world title glory and a 19-fight unbeaten record, which he expects to be extended to 20 when he faces American Chris Avalos at the Odyssey Arena on February 28.

"I have been punching away for the last six weeks," added Carl. "I've already started sparring. I am in good shape and I feel sharp."

Carl said the support he receives from everyone - "Catholics, Protestants, whatever you want to be" - is a great honour.

"The support is unbelievable," he said. "People are getting behind me."

Frampton's wife, Christine, a criminology graduate from west Belfast, is a stay-at-home mum to their children, Carla (4) and five-week-old Rossa.

"Christine is great. I love her dearly. She is a very clever girl and has put her career on hold to allow me to live the life of a boxer."

Other highlights of 2014 were being shortlisted for the RTE Sport Personality of the Year award and seeing Carla play the part of Mary in her school nativity play.

"Watching Carla in her nativity play, I was holding back the tears. It was a great experience. I was a very proud dad that day."

Praxis Care

The plight of staff at the Secret Garden Cafe in the grounds of Hillsborough Castle was a major talking-point this year.

Sixteen people with learning difficulties, supported by Praxis Care, have been working in the market garden and running the coffee shop for almost a decade in an initiative set up by former secretary of state, the late Mo Mowlam.

But the Northern Ireland Office asked the charity to leave the premises to make way for Historic Royal Palaces' plans to transform the estate into a visitor attraction. Praxis is objecting because it has invested £400,000 in the facilities.

The matter reached the courts earlier this year and the case has been adjourned until January 13 to allow for further submissions.

Praxis says the Secret Garden offers vital daycare opportunities to people with learning disabilities and it expects Secretary of State Theresa Villiers and the NIO to do everything possible to ensure its users are not deprived of this much-needed service.

A spokesman told the Belfast Telegraph it remained committed to supporting the Secret Garden staff.

"Praxis Care continues to champion the cause of those who work in the Secret Garden in Hillsborough," he said.

Praxis, which registered as a charity in 1983, provides services for adults and children with a learning disability, mental ill health, acquired brain injury and dementia.

"As an employer committed to quality and continuous improvement, Praxis Care is one of the very few charities to achieve and retain ISO 9001 and Investors in People Gold," added the spokesman.

"It has continued, in very difficult financial times, to expand its services in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, England and the Isle of Man. It has enabled people to continue to live in the community, and has enabled people to come back to Northern Ireland to be close to their families.

"This delivers a higher quality of care and provides employment in Northern Ireland and grows the local economy."

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