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 e-mails 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.’
Take care of yourselves and of each other. Ní neart go cur le céile.
Adrian O’Neill is Ireland’s Ambassador to the UK. Follow him on Twitter: @AdrianGONeill