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President and Sabina Higgins to hold Remembrance Ceremony for those who died from COVID-19

Date: Sun 20th Mar, 2022 | 10:08

President Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina will hold a special Remembrance Ceremony at Áras an Uachtaráin, entitled “To Honour and Hold in Memory”, for all those who died from COVID-19, those grieving the loss of their loved ones and frontline workers. Those attending the ceremony will include the Tánaiste, party leaders, the Lord Mayor of Dublin and a number of frontline workers from across the country.

The President will address the event and then ring the Peace Bell five times in honour of each of the following groups:

  1. For those who died during COVID
  2. For those who made sacrifices during COVID
  3. For those who lost loved ones during COVID
  4. For frontline workers
  5. For those who still have COVID.

One minute’s silence will then be observed.

As part of the ceremony, the President and Sabina will also plant an oak tree in the Commemorative Garden at Áras an Uachtaráin as a lasting memorial to all those lost during the pandemic. Music will be performed by Iarla Ó Lionáird and Steve Cooney.

In a statement, President Higgins said:

“Today is a very solemn occasion, at which we will give honour and hold in memory those we have lost, as well those who have suffered the absence of an opportunity for final moments shared and who could not release their grief. In doing so, we reflect on the more than 6,600 people who have died as a result of COVID-19 in this country over the past two years, their grieving families, and all those still suffering from COVID and its consequences.

Today we have to the forefront of our minds the more than half a million people in this country who lost loved ones during the pandemic, and all those, too, living abroad who have endured painful separation from loved ones at home in Ireland at times of great distress and grief. We recall how hard it was that there was no space for those normal expressions of grief that had to be curtailed because of the restrictions imposed, necessary as they were, to curtail the virus’s spread. We think too of those carers who had to forgo offering their care and visits to those they love.

Of course, COVID is not over. The pandemic is still rampant in many parts of the world, particularly in poorer countries that have limited access to vaccines. Our thoughts are with relatives of the more than 6 million people who have died across the globe as a result of the virus. We must continue our efforts through the international institutions, such as the World Health Organisation, to support the roll-out of vaccinations in those countries with lower vaccination rates. As Secretary General of the United Nations António Guterres has reminded us repeatedly over the past 24 months, no-one is safe until everyone is safe. Many here in Ireland and elsewhere also struggle on with the long-term effects of the virus, dealing with ongoing symptoms and fatigue which has become a debilitating side-effect of what has been termed ‘Long Covid’.

Many have also suffered in other ways, through isolation, through missed chances to share the major milestones of life, through an increased exposure to the threat of domestic violence, and in so many more ways.

We owe a great debt of thanks to all our frontline and emergency workers, all those voluntary and non-governmental organisations who have provided such vital supports to victims and the vulnerable, and to all those throughout our communities who have undertaken such countless acts of kindness and service.

We cannot ever say it too often: today is a day in which we honour our frontline workers who ensured that our society and economy were able to function at a most basic level, providing essential services needed for subsistence, be it health or retail. All those workers, whatever the task, took risks to personal health. A heightened recognition now exists across society, I believe, regarding the need to value much essential work that we have been undervaluing and, may I say, in so many instances, underpaying.

As we emerge from two brutal years of pandemic which have had such devastating consequences at so many levels – personal, societal, cultural and economic – we owe it to the victims of the pandemic, as well as those who risked their own health working in the provision of essential services, to take the opportunity that now presents itself to reflect and learn from the lessons that the pandemic provoked for us; questions pertaining to the world of work, how we valued and acknowledge different forms of work, but even more profoundly, questions relating to the way we strive to live our lives, the way we relate to our surroundings and with nature, our resonance with the world.

It is important we remember the many remarkable ways that we have come together as a people to support each other, and in particular the most vulnerable, over the course of the pandemic. As we recall the past two years, may I urge us all to play our part in building on the groundswell of solidarity, so amply demonstrated during the pandemic, to deepen this solidarity, extend it ever further, set about creating hope and a future that is more resilient, ethical, inclusive and sustainable in a post-pandemic world, one that will usher in a new era of universal human rights and social cohesion. Such an outcome would perhaps be the most fitting tribute to all those we remember today.

On this day when we as a country are coming together to remember all those who have been lost, Sabina and myself were anxious to hold a ceremony at Áras an Uachtaráin, alongside the other events which are taking place, and to repeat our encouragement to others throughout the country to express their loss in what is for them the most appropriate way over the coming year.

We are deeply conscious that no symbol can replace the loss of loved ones, or the loss of the opportunity to be with them and indeed to grieve, and for that reason we are hoping the different organisations and local authorities will find their own opportunities for expression.

For our own part, we hope today’s ceremony can provide some degree of solace and solidarity to all those who have suffered and we intend that the tree we are planting in the Commemorative Garden of Áras an Uachtaráin will remain an enduring symbol to the memory of all those we have lost.”