I am delighted to be sending my sixth Christmas message to the people of the Falkland Islands and 2015 has certainly been an eventful year for you.
Younger generations seized the chance to shine at the Overseas Territories Student Conference, held at University College London. The fact that so many of your students took part in a conference centred on sustainable development is hugely encouraging for the future of the Islands.
This month’s climate change summit in Paris highlighted the importance of tackling environmental issues as a global community. You have maintained your focus on protecting the pristine environment in the Islands and the Falkland waters, and we look forward to continuing to work with you in the coming years to ensure we can protect against the effects of climate change.
Now this month also saw leaders from the Overseas Territories gather in London for the Joint Ministerial Council. I was struck by the leadership of the Falkland Islands’ delegation in encouraging the sharing of information and experience between territories. I believe that there is ample opportunity to do more to learn from one another in this way.
Important work on de-mining continues and I am pleased to see that the current phase is going well. We have concentrated up until now on those areas immediately surrounding Stanley, in order to achieve the greatest impact on your daily lives. We must now begin to consider those more environmentally and logistically challenging areas further afield.
Now 2015 has also been a challenging year in many ways. From the tragic events in Paris just last month, to the devastating earthquake in Nepal, there have been moments when we have mourned such senseless loss of life. We have also, of course, been moved by the images and stories of the streams of refugees moving across Europe, many fleeing the conflict in Syria. I was heartened to hear of the offers of support from the Falkland Islanders for the refugees.
The Islands have also been subject to their own significant challenges of course, not least in the emergency evacuation of the cruise ship, Le Boréal, last month. While it was an extremely distressing incident for the 347 passengers and crew, I have heard of their gratitude to the Islanders for the way they were supported with clothing, food and shelter after their dramatic rescue. The sensitivity and compassion that you showed epitomizes the Falklands spirit. You should be proud that people from 25 different countries left as friends of the Islands, with good memories of a warm and welcoming people.
I continue to take a close interest in the development of your hydrocarbons industry and I firmly believe in your right to develop your economy for your own benefit. That is why my ministers and I continue to lobby hard in support of that right.
More broadly, your economy continues to thrive, with strong fishing and tourism industries. You have continued to find new ways to showcase all the Islands have to offer, both at home and abroad. And I’m delighted by the success of the BBC’s Island Parish series, which clearly demonstrates your ongoing responsible stewardship of your natural resources.
It’s my hope that the election of a new Argentine president will allow us to move towards a more mature relationship. It’s clear that there are many areas on which cooperation could be of mutual benefit. I’ve spoken myself with President Macri, and while I am eager to improve Argentine relations, for the benefit of all, I am clear that this does not and will not change my government’s position on your right to self-determination. On this we are immoveable.
Looking to the future, 2016 will doubtless be another year full of opportunity for the Falkland Islands.
So as this year comes to a close, Samantha and I wish you all the very best, and hope you have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.