‘We can achieve much together when we make common cause’
This Christmas we have decorated our homes, sent our cards and Santa will make his visits like every other year, but the year we have lived through has not been like any other year.
An invisible threat that we barely knew about last Christmas is ravaging the world. We are living through a health crisis, a social crisis and an economic crisis. Yet, as we gather together for one day this Christmas, we can do so with some hope.
The UK has led the way in approving and providing the first vaccine. Right now, Northern Ireland has the highest vaccination rate in the UK and the world. More vaccines will follow, reinforcements in our fight against Covid.
We will still face moments of despair and worry, but now we have our long path back to normality.
The Christmas story is of a long and difficult journey that ended in the birth of Jesus. It was a journey inspired by love and devotion to God. I believe it is love and devotion that has helped us come together and face the common enemy of Covid.
It showed what we can achieve when we make common cause — a lesson we should not forget in the new year, new decade and new century ahead of us.
As we gather in our households to celebrate Christmas, we remember those who will work throughout Christmas to keep us safe and ensure the sick are cared for.
Whether it is our health staff in hospitals and the community or soldiers on duty across the world, police officers protecting our neighbourhoods or our blue light services, I thank them sincerely for their dedication and selflessness.
I also thank those who must do their job over Christmas to ensure our lights stay on, the water keeps running and our essential supplies are kept on the shelves.
I think particularly this Christmas about those who will have an empty seat at the table. Perhaps it is a son or daughter who was unable to get home or an elderly grandparent who is shielding. With an elderly mother and children of my own, I appreciate the strains that brings. We feel incomplete. But we must look forward to a time when we will be able to all meet again.
Finally, I also think of those whose house is quieter because their loved one has died. The first Christmas is tough and no amount of words will change that reality, but we must all pull together as neighbours to get each other through. That simple phone call can be the difference between loneliness and contentment.
We may not be able to meet together but, please, look out for your neighbours. A simple text message or a phone call can dramatically change someone’s day.
I wish everyone a very happy Christmas.
Arlene Foster, First Minister
Christmas is always a time for reflection.
And as we approach the festive season, we will all be looking back on a year unlike any other, a year in which we have faced the huge challenges posed by the spread of Covid-19.
It is a time for us to remember all those who have lost their lives, and the loss experienced by their families and loved ones.
And it’s a time to recognise the many sacrifices people have made, as well as the impact that this pandemic has had on the most vulnerable and those most in need in our society — including the sick, the elderly, our children and those forced to self-isolate.
This year, our health and frontline services and all of our key workers have been challenged like never before and have worked tirelessly on our behalf.
We are all very proud and grateful for their efforts, for the work of all our doctors, nurses, paramedics, care home workers, support staff, cleaners and every single essential frontline worker whose contributions have helped to save lives and keep us safe, despite the huge damage inflicted by a decade of Tory cuts to essential services.
Many of these front-line workers have made huge sacrifices for us. They have sacrificed seeing their own families to protect themselves and their patients.
I am mindful that for many of them there will be no respite over the Christmas season.
Our businesses and our workers and their families too have faced huge challenges and have been hit hard by the impact of Covid on our economy.
2020 has reminded us all of the importance of family and friends, and of community. Of supporting and looking after those who most need it.
So, as we celebrate the spirit of Christmas, let us do so inspired by the true generosity of spirit that we have witnessed over the last year.
Christmas is also a time to look forward — to the dawning of a new year.
We are not out of the woods yet, we have a way to go and the weeks ahead will continue to test our resilience.
The vaccine, now being rolled out to the most vulnerable, as well as to frontline healthcare staff, is the light at the end of the Covid tunnel.
But for now, please do everything you can to keep each other safe, have a happy and safe Christmas, look after each other and follow the health guidance.
And as we enter a New Year it must be with a fresh determination to build a new society based on equality, inclusion, opportunity, and where the efforts of our frontline heroes is truly valued.
Michelle O’Neill, Deputy First Minister