South Down MP Chris Hazzard’s hopes for 2021

South Down MP Chris Hazzard’s hopes for 2021

6 January 2021

2021 will hopefully bring many opportunities, as well as challenges, for our local community here in South Down.

The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated many families in 2020, especially those who have lost loved ones.

It has changed our lives, how we all live, and stretched our invaluable front line health and social care staff to their very limits.  

As we continue to battle the spread of this virus, the advent of life-saving vaccines brings us much-needed hope and optimism. 

And as we enter this New Year, it must be with a fresh determination to build a new society, based on equality, inclusion and opportunity for all. 

Sinn Féin is continuing to work to support and deliver for communities, families and businesses during these unprecedented times. 

Our immediate priorities have been to protect public health and provide practical and financial support to workers, families and local businesses. 

The pandemic and its impact on almost every aspect of our lives has opened up space to discuss how we resource our public services and to assess who and what we value as a society.

Our people have shown that they are our most valuable asset.

Workers once classified as “unskilled” are now recognised as essential. While the appreciation of these workers may have changed in the eyes of some; their pay and conditions have not.

The crisis has further illustrated the incredible work undertaken by our nurses and doctors, in addition to the work undertaken by public transport workers, cleaners and those in our emergency services.

Long periods of having to work from home for others have also served to highlight that homes are our sanctuary. The lack of affordable, decent homes must be addressed in the time ahead — especially in areas like South Down where many young people can not chose to stay and live in their local community.  

So there is no doubt that challenges remain for us as we enter this new year, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Vaccines are already being rolled out to those most vulnerable, as well as to our front line healthcare staff.

Brexit has created four-and-a-half years of division and grave uncertainty for our workers, families and businesses.

I have worked with other pro-Remain parties, the Irish Government, and European leaders to protect the Good Friday Agreement, prevent a hard border and safeguard Irish interests. This has served our people well. 

The voice of Ireland, and the concerns of the North, have been heard and heeded. 

And while a deal has now been agreed between the EU and British Government, our priority remains on ensuring unique protections for Ireland and the full implementation of the Protocol. 

Brexit has opened up a public discourse on the future of this island and exposed the undemocratic nature of partition. 

In 2021, we will look back at a seminal chapter in our history — the partition of our island. For nationalists and republicans, the centenary of partition will not be a cause for celebration.

It does, however, give us cause to look to the possibilities and opportunities for the future of the people of this island. 

This is a defining moment in our history and people will have decisions to make on what is in the best interests of our island.

We are in a decade of opportunity where the right to decide our own future rests in the hands of our people. The conversation on Irish unity is well underway across our society. 

The provision for a referendum on unity is part of the Good Friday Agreement. 

We now have a choice between a narrow, inward-looking vision of Brexit Britain or the open inclusive vision of a New Ireland. 

2021 should be about an inclusive conversation. This is a time for debate and big, bold ideas for everyone who calls this island home.  

Let us all begin this new year with a sense of realism about the challenges we continue to face but also optimism and a commitment to help us build a new and better future for everyone.