After the election in 2019 I was allocated a new office in Westminster. It has dark wood panelling as you walk through the entrance but above the door expertly carved into the wood are the words “Trust In The Lord”. Possibly because of the passage of time, it is difficult to read the words from certain angles. Indeed, I was in the office for weeks before I even noticed them.
I attempted to find out the history of this room but so far I’ve been unable to ascertain where this carving originated. I understand however that it dates back several generations and yet, these wise words are enduring.
As I write this Christmas message, those words are in my mind and whilst they are appropriate every day, they are a little more so when I think of Christmas. God sent His Son in the form of a baby to grow into a man and walk on this earth but also to one day die on a cross so He could be our Saviour.
Every day as Christians we place our “Trust in the Lord” but at Christmas as I think of the baby Jesus being born, those words above the door remind me of God’s eternal plan. When we think of gifts, giving one’s life and offering eternal life is hard to surpass.
Just as that engraved message was above my door for weeks before I noticed it, I hope this Christmas will be one where we all get a fresh glimpse of the Saviour.
Over Christmas week, politics tends to drop down the headlines as newsrooms operate on skeleton staff but in our hospitals, our armed forces, our emergency services or our agri-food sector, Christmas Day is just another day on the front line or in the field.
Some of my own family will be on the hospital ward and collectively we appreciate the sacrifices they make for us. Indeed, I recently met the Royal College of Nurses and assured them that we wanted to see their members get a decent pay rise and their terms and conditions overhauled.
Millions of pounds are poured into exorbitant agency staff whilst, if that was redirected to nurses working directly for the Trust, hundreds more nurses could be on our wards every shift. The best gift we could give our healthcare staff would be a workplace structure which is attractive and safe for people to work in.
As I look back over the last twelve months, as a Party, we have had to stand strong. We’ve also stood united and far beyond our membership, unionism has broadly stood united too. 2022 must have taught us that the way forward is through greater unionist cooperation. I will continue to lead the way on such unity.
Stepping out of government was not an easy decision because I believe in devolution but enough was enough. As a recent court case demonstrated, unionist Ministers could not be expected to implement a Protocol which is driving a wedge between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. There will be no solid foundation for devolution to work until the Protocol is properly dealt with.
Some people say we are placing the NI Protocol above other public services. I disagree. The Trader Support Service exists to help businesses with Protocol paperwork. It has cost £436k per day for two years. If that money had been used to employ nurses it would have paid the annual salary for another 7,000 highly experienced nurses. All these matters are interlinked.
I’ve been in London this week for more meetings with the Government where I underscored our commitment to Stormont but only when the Protocol is replaced by arrangements that unionists can support.
As I wish you and your loved ones a happy, healthy and peaceful Christmas I hope the presents are all wrapped and under the tree. Hopefully amongst Santa, Rudolf, gifts, trees, holly wreaths, Nat King Cole, Mariah Carey and Michael Bublé, you get a chance to think about the message above my office door.
Best wishes and see you all in 2023.