President Michael D Higgins has used his Christmas and New Year message to highlight the plight of homeless people in Ireland and across the world.
Drawing parallels with the story of the nativity, and the birth of a child in a temporary home, the President expressed hope the festive season would foster a renewed commitment to help those in need.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Mr Higgins said the continued absence of peace in the Middle East reflected “our failure at a human and diplomatic level, and how, sadly, we hear words that provoke rather than heal”.
He urged people to think about refugees.
“As we leave behind the dark days of midwinter, 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,” said the President.
“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.”