'We will come through this' - Irish Ambassador's message of support as Britain goes into lockdown
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'We will come through this' - Irish Ambassador's message of support as Britain goes into lockdown

THE Irish Ambassador to Britain has issued a poignant statement of support and reassurance for the Irish community as the country goes into lockdown due to the ongoing spread of the coronavirus.

Thanking health service workers in Britain and Ireland, Ambassador Adrian O’Neill spoke of the “special effort” needed from us all to counter the potentially devastating impact of the virus on the most vulnerable members of the Irish community in Britain.

“An unprecedented public health emergency requires an unprecedented public response,” he said.

“Both the Irish and the UK Governments have had to take some very tough but necessary decisions and implement some robust measures to tackle the spread of the virus.

“These actions have already had a serious impact on our day to day lives, including the social distancing we must now observe and restrictions on travel overseas.

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“They particularly impact on the elderly and the vulnerable where social distancing can in effect become domestic isolation – unless the rest of us make a special effort to counter it.”

His statement comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced strict new rules that curb life in that Britain for the foreseeable future.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has imposed strict new restrictions on daily life in Britain

In a special public address made from Downing Street at 8.30pm last night, he revealed that from today people in Britain may only leave home to exercise once a day, to travel to and from work where "absolutely necessary", to shop for essential items, and to fulfil any medical or care needs.

Shops selling non-essential goods were told to shut and gatherings in public of more than two people who do not live together are no longer allowed.

Mr Johnson went on to confirm that the police now have powers to enforce the new restrictions on anyone who is not abiding by them and to impose fines.

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The enhanced measures follow the Prime Minister's order last Friday, that pubs, restaurants, theatres, gyms and many other businesses across Britain must close their doors in order to stop the spread of the virus.

During that briefing he urged people to stay at home and keep their distnce from one another, however many seemed to be ignoring those rules over the weekend as they headed to national parks and recreation areas in their droves.

The closure of all schools in Britain also came into effect this week, although the children of key workers – which includes NHS staff, supermarket employees and teachers, among others – are still able to attend school.

Regarding the huge contribution of health workers to the ongoing crisis, Mr O’Neill said: “It will of course be the NHS in Britain and the HSE in Ireland, along with the emergency services, who will be on the front line responding to this emergency. All of their skill, professionalism, resilience and compassion will serve them well in responding to the huge challenge before them.”

He added:  “Our pride in those Irish women and men who work in the NHS will be especially warranted at this time.”

Irish Ambassador to Britain, Adrian O'Neill
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The Irish Ambassador’s message in full:

We are all living through a public health emergency. In Ireland and here in Britain, citizens are justifiably worried about the damage being inflicted on their lives and livelihoods by the Covid-19 virus. The virus has already taken too many lives and very sadly more will be lost in the following weeks as people become seriously ill. The economic and social impact of the pandemic has already cost thousands of jobs and caused severe damage to the economy on both sides of the Irish Sea.

An unprecedented public health emergency requires an unprecedented public response. Both the Irish and the UK Governments have had to take some very tough but necessary decisions and implement some robust measures to tackle the spread of the virus. These actions have already had a serious impact on our day to day lives, including the social distancing we must now observe and restrictions on travel overseas. They particularly impact on the elderly and the vulnerable where social distancing can in effect become domestic isolation – unless the rest of us make a special effort to counter it.

It will of course be the NHS in Britain and the HSE in Ireland, along with the emergency services, who will be on the front line responding to this emergency. As the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on St. Patrick’s Day, never will so many ask so much of so few.  We wish them well for what will be an extraordinarily challenging, difficult and harrowing period ahead. All of their skill, professionalism, resilience and compassion will serve them well in responding to the huge challenge before them. Our pride in those Irish women and men who work in the NHS will be especially warranted at this time.

All across Britain, Irish community organisations have been reviewing their operations in the light of the current crisis. Lots of activities and planned events have been postponed; new priorities have been identified; and organisations are already redirecting their focus and energies to seeing how they can best support the most vulnerable and isolated across our community. The Embassy will support these organisations to ensure that the resources available through the Emigrant Support Programme are targeted on the people of greatest need in the weeks ahead. Even in the shadow of this terrible virus, I am very confident that the Irish community across Great Britain will adhere to its traditional values of solidarity, care and concern for those most in need.

My team and I are also here for Irish citizens in Britain. While Embassy staff are now working remotely in compliance with government guidelines, we will continue to answer emails and calls, engage with stakeholders by phone and provide the help we can to Irish citizens in need of urgent consular assistance.

The weeks ahead will be difficult for all of us: our work and social lives will be restricted; our physical and mental health will be challenged; our morale and good humour will be tested by daily news bulletins that bring bad news. However, drawing on our traditional resources of fortitude and resilience; acting as responsible citizens in complying with the guidance of the relevant experts and authorities; and collectively supporting each other as a caring community, we will come through this emergency. As the late Seamus Heaney once urged us, we must “believe that a farther shore is reachable from here”.

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Take care of yourselves and of each other. Ní neart go cur le céile.

Adrian O’Neill, Ambassador of Ireland