Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland First Minister in peace pledge

Peter Robinson
Image caption Peter Robinson said peace and stability were precious commodities

The First Minister Peter Robinson has said he is determined to do all he can to build upon "peace and stability" in Northern Ireland in 2012.

Mr Robinson made the comments in his Christmas message.

He said peace and stability were precious commodities that were also vital for Northern Ireland's prosperity.

"This year we saw for ourselves that evil criminals want to shatter peace," he said. "They will not win."

The First Minister asked everyone in Northern Ireland to remember those families who "lost loved ones during the Troubles".

He also asked that people think of those members of the armed forces serving in Afghanistan.

"Whilst we all gather for Christmas, let us spare a thought for these heroes and their families," he said.

Mr Robinson said it was also important to look out for elderly neighbours.

"At Christmas, many older people feel isolated and alone," he added.

"If you have an older neighbour, take ten minutes to call by and say 'hello'. A small gesture like this can mean so much to someone."

Meanwhile the Catholic Bishops' in Ireland said they were conscious of the many families across the island who were under pressure because of the country's financial problems.

"It is no coincidence that from the very beginning of the current economic crisis, organisations such as ACCORD have reported significant increases in the number of couples coming to them for help," their Christmas statement said.

'Kind word'

"As pressure on families increase, it is important that all couples take time to think about how much of themselves and their time they give to nurturing their relationship, which is at the heart of family life."

The bishops also referred to the recent "difficult" years in the church and pledged to renew their commitment to work to address the failings of the past in truth, justice and humility.

The Church of Ireland primate, Archbishop Alan Harper, also focused on the financial difficulties facing the UK and Ireland and called for the concept of "kindness" to be placed at the heart of modern society.

"A kind word, a kind gesture can go a long way to making the lives of hard-pressed people bearable," he said.

"It can light up a life. It says 'I'm someone, not no-one, I count in the eyes of someone else'."

The Presbyterian Moderator, Dr Ivan Patterson, said that many people in the modern world preferred a Jesus who fitted their prejudices and suited their appetites without making any demands.

But he said that Christmas reminded us that through the incarnation, God had become flesh.

"He came into the middle of life and wants to come into our lives. Jesus knew life as we know it."