Message to the Samaritans in Ireland
29 December 2020
May I send my warmest festive greetings, mar Uachtarán na hÉireann, as President of Ireland, to the more than 2,000 active volunteers across the 21 branches of the Samaritans in Ireland.
This Christmas period comes after a year that tested us all, but particularly the vulnerable. We are all called on to increase our resolve to continue our efforts to take care of one other – to suppress COVID-19, to demonstrate solidarity with our essential workers and with each other.
The community that is the Samaritans are giving us such a lead in that endeavour. Work such as theirs is demonstrating our renewed commitment to each other, based on what are fundamental values that represent the best of ourselves, such as solidarity, care, compassion, kindness, sensitivity – all values that the Samaritans embody.
As we share the grief of those who have lost loved-ones in recent times, as well as the pain and suffering of those whose lives and livelihoods have been impacted adversely by the pandemic, we must also address the loneliness being experienced by many as a result of the separation from contact with those who previously sustained them.
This sense of isolation can for many become all the more acute at Christmas time. We must acknowledge what so many are missing – the loss of the social, economic and cultural links that add so much to the texture of our lives together. We should use this Christmas time to encourage each other, be there for each other, and draw strength from that sense of solidarity.
If I may single out one particular branch of the Samaritans in Ireland, the Dublin branch of the Samaritans, for whom this year was to be a special year of celebration for its 250 volunteers as it marked 50 years of continuous service to the Irish public.
The impact of COVID-19 resulted in plans to mark this significant anniversary being curtailed. However, I would like to give my deepest thanks, as President of Ireland, and on behalf of all the people of Ireland, to all the staff and volunteers in Dublin Samaritans and congratulate you on this milestone. Tréaslaím libh.
The service that the Samaritans provide is so invaluable, impacting as it does on the lives of so many in such a positive manner. The service is a lifeline, providing a beacon of hope for the many who may be experiencing, or have ever experienced, deep emotional distress or suicidal ideation. By providing this crucial service, you are offering an experience of a kinder, more compassionate society. We all owe so much to the work of the Samaritans, a voluntary organisation that is so cherished within our society.
Over the years, the Samaritans has received millions of calls from people in distress, and hundreds of thousands of people have given their time so generously to become volunteers. It is such a source of encouragement and security to so many of the people of Ireland who know that, for as long as is needed, the Samaritans will be there, listening and providing support to those who require it.
The generous citizens who are its members have, for over half a century, been reaching out a hand of friendship and support to fellow citizens in Ireland whose lives have been darkened by difficulty and despair, during times when there seems to be no light, no hope, no way out. You have been volunteering, with such kindness and selflessness, your time, your listening skills and your own life experience, and, in doing so, have made a profound and positive impact on many lives, often making the difference between life and death, rescuing many citizens from situations where their life no longer seemed worth living.
Time and again, we see evidence of how the act of giving to your community and to wider society can, in itself, be an immensely rewarding and often life-changing experience, providing fulfilment, a close connection to your fellow human beings, to the community in which you live, as well as unlocking skills and potential.
May I pay a special tribute today to those who have the courage to acknowledge that they need help and support, the hundreds of thousands of callers to your branches across the island. By utilising the important service that the Samaritans provide, you are demonstrating your belief in the transformative power of hope, demonstrating a will to reach out from the darkness of despair to grasp a brighter future.
The Samaritans’ important and generous outreach work in the community is also to be applauded. I wish to acknowledge and celebrate, if I may, the extension of your generosity into many of our prisons where you train listeners to provide services to other inmates in emotional distress. This programme commenced in Irish prisons in 2002 and, having joined you to celebrate 10 years of such a service in Mountjoy Prison in 2018, I am glad to hear that it continues to go from strength to strength. We know that there is a high incidence of mental illness amongst prisoners in Ireland, so the service you provide in this setting is of the utmost importance.
The ongoing challenge of COVID-19 has resulted for so many in such tragic personal and social consequences, and sometimes the impacts are not so well known. Perhaps an overlooked consequence is the fact that the many branches of the Samaritans regrettably have not been able to take callers to their doors at times during the crisis because of the public health restrictions imposed. This has undoubtedly made your work more challenging.
As we approach the end of 2020, a gruelling year for all, but acutely felt by many, we emerge into the beginning of longer, lighter days – days of hope. All of your work is a beacon of better days to come. It is my sincere hope that all the volunteers of Samaritans Ireland take time in the coming days and weeks to reflect and feel the satisfaction of knowing on how valuable their profound contribution to Irish society has been, that they have comfort from all those they have helped in dire circumstances. I would like them to know how much I recognise that the service they provide represents active citizenship at its very best. On behalf of all the citizens of Ireland who know of your generous, tireless work, allow me to tell you how much we are all so deeply grateful for it.
May I wish you all a continued Happy Christmas and best wishes for the New Year.
Nollaig shona agus athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh go léir.