Christmas Message from President Michael D. Higgins

Wed 20th Dec, 2023 | 10:00
Christmas Message from President Michael D. Higgins

Mar Uachtarán na hÉireann, as President of Ireland, may I send my warmest wishes for a peaceful and Happy Christmas and New Year to you all.

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 island 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.

We Irish 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.

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.

The attacks on children, the loss of lives of children such as we have seen and are witnessing, requires that all nations redouble their efforts for a ceasefire and set about the tasks of achieving lasting resolutions to conflicts, so many of which could and should have been anticipated and indeed avoided.

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.

We are at a precarious juncture in what is now an existential battle, one that requires us to rebalance, seek to recover our relationship with nature, one that requires a vital and meaningful change from all of us, in every aspect of our lives.

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.

Dealing with the consequences of both climate change and biodiversity loss emphasizes the need for the recovery of a meaningful and shared diplomacy in dealing with what are shared crises.

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.

Our multiple, interconnected crises – including the unsolved crisis of hunger, inequality, biodiversity loss – are all exacerbated by climate changes that are amplifying global poverty, forced migrations, and famine. The stark reality of rising global hunger underscores the urgency of these challenges being collectively addressed.

These humanitarian crises, affecting millions of vulnerable people, are still awaiting an adequate global response on too many issues – for example, the plight of over 100 million people forcibly displaced.

Pope Francis is among those who have warned of the 'globalisation of indifference' and reminded us of the importance of the protection of the environment.

In his message Laudate Deum he seeks a recovery of symmetry between economics, ecology and ethics. He invites us not only to reconnect with nature, but also to achieve more sustainable, enriching and just lives together on our precious, shared, vulnerable planet that is in peril.

Our work for peace is of the utmost importance. May I thank in a special way those members of our Irish Defence Forces who will be overseas this Christmas separated from their families.

As well as their service in the continuation of the long-standing peacekeeping operation in Lebanon, Irish soldiers are also involved in building and supporting peace in so many more regions across the world that are currently experiencing conflict. Such vital work at a time when humanity is faced with unprecedented challenges of a global kind is something of which we can all be proud and deserves all of our support.

Their absences from home will mirror the experiences of many others who, owing to various circumstances, find themselves forcibly separated from the embrace of their loved ones.

In that spirit, may I express my gratitude to the migrants who now call Ireland their home. 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.

We Irish do not put a boundary to our concerns for justice. We remember the solidarity that Irish people have shown over the decades with those vulnerable across our planet, with those seeking freedom, human rights as in South Africa, for example, or the ending of dictatorship, as in the case of the one that came to power in Chile 50 years ago.

We remember with pride the contribution which Irish people have made to the cause of education in particular 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. 

Christmas is a time of hope. At this time, in the deepest darkness of winter, we anticipate and celebrate the triumph of light over dark, of dreams still realizable over the setbacks of the past.

Looking ahead to the coming year then, 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.

Nollaig Shona daoibh go léir, is beir gach beannacht don bhliain nua is don todhchaí.