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Editor's Viewpoint

We can overcome all these challenges

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Tears: Michelle O’Neill in the Assembly yesterday

Tears: Michelle O’Neill in the Assembly yesterday

Tears: Michelle O’Neill in the Assembly yesterday

The statistics about the large numbers of people infected with the coronavirus and the number of deaths as a result make for frightening reading. The latest figures show that some 367,000 people have been infected globally and 16,000 have died - with numbers rising.

Sometimes, however, figures like these are extremely difficult to comprehend, and it takes some human stories to help us realise the degree of suffering involved.

It occurred at Stormont yesterday when the deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill was reduced to tears while responding to a question from Jim Allister MLA. He revealed that one of his female constituents, the mother of a small child, was told that her cancer chemotherapy would be stopped because of the coronavirus crisis.

Mrs O’Neill, herself a mother, struggled to find words to convey to that woman, and then the tears came . This poignant incident showed clearly that politicians have feelings too, and that they themselves are under enormous pressure.

People expect leadership, but they also know that politicians are human, with families and loved ones, and sometimes it is good for all of us to see that reality too. Most people have responded with sympathy and understanding, following Michelle O’Neill’s brief breakdown.

Our politicians have had more than enough criticism in recent years, but following the initial wobble about the way the crisis is being handled North and South, our senior ministers’ joint approach is to be welcomed.

The public finds this reassuring, and day by day this co-operation is helping to put behind us the memories of some of the dark days when politicians from the main parties seemed incapable of agreeing on anything.

While there is an obviously dark side to the current crisis, there are also many acts of kindness. People are helping neighbours as best they can, while others are showing good examples on social distancing.

Those whose job it is to keep the wheels of supply turning in the food, pharmaceutical and other industries, as well as the heroics of those in the NHS, are greatly and warmly commended by all of us.

Difficult and dangerous days lie ahead, but the main message remains - namely that we are in this together.

With mutual respect and discipline we will face up to the challenges and overcome them, sooner or later.

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