May I, as President of Ireland, mar Uachtarán na hÉireann, send you my warmest wishes for a peaceful and a Happy Christmas and New Year.
Christmas is a time when we can pause for reflection, as we look back on the year gone by. It is a time when it is surely appropriate to recall the story that lies at the heart of this festive season. That story is of a long and difficult journey, and the birth of a child, in a temporary home, in Bethlehem two thousand years ago.
Let us think too of how far from a state of peace that region is today, and how the absence of peace reflects our failure at a human and diplomatic level, and how, sadly, we hear words that provoke rather than heal.
Across the many years and miles that separate us from the original Christmas story, we can unfortunately see too many parallels in our own society today.
As we reflect on this story of the search for a home, for security, let us also consider the many personal and difficult journeys currently being undertaken by so many of the fellow citizens of our shared and vulnerable planet at home and abroad.
As we reflect on the story of Bethlehem let us recognise its resonance in our contemporary society, be inspired to answer its call to stand in human solidarity with those for whom, and for whatever reason, this Christmas will be a dark and difficult one.
This Christmas, once again, the burden of homelessness will overshadow the festive season for those deprived of a secure and permanent shelter.
We are challenged, I suggest, to turn this time of celebration into a sustained commitment of awareness and care for those for whom each day is an act of survival.
May I thank those who work so tirelessly to support those in our society who are vulnerable. I have been fortunate to meet with so many groups and volunteers who have shone, and continue to shine, a light of hope into the lives of some of our most marginalised people.
Their work is an inspiring example and an uplifting reminder of the real will and capacity that exists among the people of Ireland, to re-imagine our society, and achieve an inclusive republic for all of our citizens.
As we reach the end of 2017 and begin our journey into a new year, let us make it a shared journey, encompassing the needs of all.
As we leave behind the dark days of mid-winter, let us share the dawning light of a new beginning as an opportunity to create, during the year to come, a sense of hope and optimism for each and every person and family.
Once again, I ask us all to reflect on the ongoing plight of refugees and displaced people; on the many millions of children, women and men around the world who are so far from the comfort and dignity of a home or secure shelter.
During 2017, we learned that 20 people are newly displaced every minute, forced to leave their homes, to seek refuge.
Wars, conflict, persecution, and natural disasters have forced more people to flee than at any other time since records began. Indeed, we have read of some of those fleeing being sold into slavery.
The ongoing humanitarian crisis emanating from Rakhine State in Myanmar, with its many hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh reminds us vividly of what some communities face on their long and difficult struggle to find a rightful place in a peaceful society.
As a global community and as responsible global citizens, we are called upon to respond in a way which will respect the universal right to live in safety and with dignity.
I know that Irish citizens across the world will stand with those who are suffering and that they will, as before, support those who are responding to these crises, and who are thus showing solidarity with the most vulnerable.
Sabina and I had the great pleasure, in 2017, of meeting many of the Irish abroad including those in Australia and New Zealand.
We were delighted to meet so many of our extended Irish family. To those and all the Irish abroad, and in whatever circumstances, I send greetings.
May I also, mar Uachtarán na hÉireann, thank each and every one of you who are caring for our communities throughout the holiday season, and indeed as they do during the rest of the year, An Garda Síochána, the Prison Service, all of the staff in our hospitals and emergency services, and members of the Defence Forces serving abroad who are building or supporting peace.
May I wish each and every one of you, wherever you may be, a peaceful and happy Christmas.
Michael D Higgins