Christmas message from Councillor Diana Armstrong, Chair of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council

22nd December 2020

Cllr Diana Armstrong 3   thumbnail

As Chair of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, I am delighted to take this opportunity to wish each and every one of you a very happy Christmas and peaceful New Year.

Christmas is traditionally a very special time of year in our house as it is a time when the whole family gather together to enjoy each other’s company and to relax together away from the workplace.

2020 has been an incredibly difficult year for everybody and the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic are unprecedented in living memory. The impact that it has had on our daily lives has been significant. For many, it has meant long weeks of shielding, with little or no contact with family or friends. This has been particularly difficult for the older people in our district. Historically, one of our great qualities has been the power of the family unit and at this time, family members are drawn to home to be with their loved ones. Sadly, this year many people will be unable to spend this most special of times with their loved ones. We must keep them in our thoughts and prayers over this season in the hope that 2021 will see a return to more normal times. Until then, we must be content with using technology to connect with our loved ones.

The new restrictions introduced by the Northern Ireland Assembly on Sunday 20 December 2020 to help curb the spread of Covid-19 include the reduction of the Christmas bubbling period from 5 days to just 1 day.  For many of us, this will prove particularly difficult. However, if it has the desired effect in keeping our loved ones safe and reducing the impact on our healthcare system, then I would encourage you all to please follow the guidelines.

Our health service is already facing serious pressures with the coronavirus exacerbating already stretched resources as a consequence of the usual winter pressures. For those on the front line, there will be no Christmas break. I would urge you to bear in mind that these key workers are relying on your help to make the post-Christmas period as manageable as possible.

I am reliably informed that Santa Claus has avoided travel restrictions and will be making his yearly visit on Christmas Eve to deliver gifts for boys and girls across the district. For many homes Christmas morning will bring great excitement as Santa’s presents are revealed.

We have some wonderful traditions in this country, most notably the placing of a lighted candle in the window of a house on Christmas Eve. This tradition has a number of purposes but primarily it is a symbol of welcome to Mary and Joseph as they travelled looking for shelter. This year, that symbol expresses so much more than welcome, it illustrates support and the hand of friendship from our homes.

As always, the Christmas lights enhance the appearance of the main thoroughfares in the towns making them warm and welcoming to locals and visitors alike. This year, unfortunately due to the restrictions in place because of Covid-19, we were unable to have a celebratory event to officially switch on the lights.  However, the lights are up and on in towns and villages across the district and the Christmas Lights Festival has certainly greatly enhanced the Christmas spirit in our towns.  In a change to the schedule, due to Government regulations, the Christmas Lights Festival will be suspended from 26 December 2020 and will be replaced by public health messaging at the Intec Centre in Enniskillen and the Courthouse, Omagh.

Covid-19 has had a significant impact on our economy locally. However, Fermanagh and Omagh District Council is committed to encouraging the entire community to support local businesses by shopping locally this year and I ask you to bear this in mind when it comes to your last minute Christmas shopping. We are very grateful to those shops who are also offering online, telephone and delivery at this time of year for those who may not want to venture out into public spaces at this time.

Our senior citizens are particularly vulnerable at this time of year and I would ask that you look out for our more senior members of our community especially those on their own.

The development of a vaccine against Covid-19 has been a welcome step forward and has provided a ray of light at the end of a very dark tunnel.  But we are not there yet. Please continue to follow the guidance from the Northern Ireland Executive and the Public Health Agency particularly around bubbling at Christmas.

I would also like to offer my sincere sympathies to all those who have been bereaved through coronavirus or who have lost loved ones in this period to other illnesses. You have been unable to avail of the usual comfort and community support which a wake and attendance at funerals and interments usually offers at such a sad time. Rest assured that our thoughts and prayers are with you this Christmas time.

As First Citizen, I am proud of the manner in which the people of the Fermanagh and Omagh district have responded to the Covid-19 pandemic and I would like to express my gratitude on behalf of the people of the district to the frontline staff across all the sectors who have delivered and continue to deliver critical services across the district.

Finally, I would like to wish each and every one of you a very happy, healthy and safe Christmas and my genuine hopes for a brighter, better future in 2021.