“As President of Ireland, may I send my warmest wishes for a peaceful and Happy Christmas and New Year to all of the Irish community in Britain.
This Christmas, we are conscious that across the world there are many people facing the most horrific of circumstances of war and displacement. We think in particular of all of the children in Gaza and Israel, places known to many as a Holy Land, and that has been darkened by the taking of so many lives, and too many young lives in particular, in recent months.
All of our hearts are made heavy by these terrible losses. So many families across our own islands too will still be feeling the loss of family members to conflict, as this year we marked the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
From our collective experience, we are all too aware of the horrors that can be committed, including due to the distortion and abuse of religious difference, when violence is allowed to quench the desire for a shared peace. However, history tells us, and we are conscious of it, that peace can be built, however fragile and cautious those first initial steps must be.
This April will mark ten years since I made a return State Visit to the United Kingdom in 2014, the first such visit by a President of Ireland to the UK, and following three years after the State Visit made by the late Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland in 2011. It is vital that we reflect on the progress that has been made in recent decades and continue to build a better shared future between our islands.
For far too many, Christmas is a time of experienced or recovered sorrow. It is, therefore, a time to remember the vulnerabilities that should be shared, and addressed, by us all, in particular vulnerabilities experienced by those who are at risk, excluded and marginalised, on the simple basis of being perceived as different, as “the Other”.
As we gather this Christmas, let us reflect on the challenges that cast a dark shadow over our world, including the war in Ukraine that continues to drain lives and livelihoods.
The loss of life in each conflict is a stark reminder of the price paid for a lost shared space of diplomacy, of the abuse of power, of the importance that must be attached to the strengthening of the ideals of peace. At this time of multiple, complex global challenges, it has perhaps never been such an important shared task.
This month, as we face many challenges that will draw on the best of our courage and determination, world leaders have been meeting at COP28, the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, to address the increasingly urgent climate crisis.
The United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, has warned with ever-increasing urgency over the course of the year of the need for authenticity of commitment, for nations to move beyond words and take the immediate meaningful actions that are needed to avert environmental and social catastrophe.
Authenticity in what we propose for implementation, especially in relation to issues such as loss and damage to developing nations, demands so much more than apologies. It requires a commitment that will enable possibilities to be recovered, the allocation of resources, human and scientific, reparations that can facilitate innovative, responsible investments that can help sow the seeds of recovery and restoration, for some of our most vulnerable global citizens.
It is important we recognise the experience of so many of our Irish family, including many of the Irish community in Britain, who, owing to various circumstances, find themselves forcibly separated from the embrace of their loved ones this Christmas.
In that spirit, may I express my gratitude to the migrants who now call Ireland their home, including the many people and families who have travelled from Britain to Ireland. Their presence enriches our culture, contributes to our society, bringing as they do experiences, traditions, and perspectives that make us stronger as a nation.
As we celebrate this Christmas season, may it be a time for understanding and appreciation for one another. Let us embrace the values of tolerance and mutual respect, recognizing that our differences are the threads that weave the intricate rich fabric of our shared identity.
We, as Irish people, are all too aware of how, for so many different reasons, people have had cause to move from their places of birth in search of a better life, of security itself. It is of course a history shared by so many of the Irish families who have travelled to Britain over the decades and centuries.
We remember with pride the contribution which Irish people have made in so many parts of the world, and at the same time thank those many people among us who have come to live and work with us in Ireland, and who play such important roles in our health and care systems, amongst so many other important roles.
As we recall our shared vulnerabilities and possibilities this Christmas, let us resolve to forge together a renewed sense of extended solidarity, one that is shaped to fit and encompass all the citizens on our vulnerable planet.
Looking ahead to the coming year, our most significant resolution must be a collective commitment to succeed in the value-laden tasks where our previous efforts may have fallen short. The challenges I have listed are not insurmountable, but they require sustained dedication, collaboration, and commitment to a shared vision for a better world.
Let us strive to make a meaningful difference and lay the foundations for a shared and brighter future where justice, compassion, and sustainability prevail.
May I wish all the Irish at home and abroad, and those who live and work with them, a very happy and peaceful Christmas and a New Year full of promise, health and fulfilment.