External issues and challenges ahead in the coming year, says Governor

This has been an interesting year – more interesting perhaps than we might have imagined when I was delivering my Christmas message last year. There have been high points, challenges and uncertainty, and moments of sadness.
One of the highlights early in the year was the Royal Wedding, the marriage of William and Kate, now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. We marked the occasion with the planting of a tree by Mr and Mrs Fernando Martinez who celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary on the same day, 29th April. And we ourselves celebrated with a local community reception in the Convent garden.

It has been a great pleasure to open up the Convent and the garden in this way for many and varied events throughout the year. The garden open day in June in aid of charity attracted 1000 visitors and members of the general public. And the Convent itself has been the venue for a whole raft of events such as Investitures, concerts, formal dinners, Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards, receptions, school tours, and, of course, the annual Queen’s Birthday Garden Party. Altogether we have welcomed some 7000 people into the Convent on various occasions over the course of the year. I believe this is an important thing to do and we hope to do even better next year.

Our main charity event was as ever the Convent Christmas Fair, which once again raised well over £20,000 for its chosen charities. My wife and I are hugely grateful to the hard-working committee and to the many other people who helped organise, run and sponsor the event. And to all of you who attended the fair and who bought items from the stalls or raffle tickets thank you for your contribution to the charitable causes.

Looking outside of Gibraltar, things are less comforting. The Rock stands at the meeting point of two great seas and two great continents and not for a long time has the view from here been so uncertain, whichever way we look. To the south, we have seen extraordinary change as the Arab Spring swept across North Africa and the Middle East. As a direct result, we have seen a significant increase in the use of our naval and military facilities, especially for naval movements as ships have transited to and from Libya in particular. Once again Gibraltar has demonstrated its utility and importance as a sovereign, forward mounting base for operations elsewhere.

To the north of us, the challenge is very different. Economic and political risks continue to dominate the news in Europe. As a result of the Eurozone crisis, Britain’s relationship with the EU has come under pressure and, of course, right on our doorstep we need to build a new relationship with the Partido Popular government taking office in Spain. Though the Rock remains remarkably stable, all of these external issues will inevitably have an impact of some sort and I think the year ahead will present challenges – and I hope some opportunities – for us all and particularly for the new government here.

Gibraltar went to the polls earlier this month and opted for change. The election itself was a model of democratic excellence, organised and conducted as it was with meticulous attention to detail. I witnessed for myself the smooth, calm and dignified manner in which it was held and I congratulate the Returning Officer, Melvyn Farrell and his whole team who worked so hard to deliver success. And I was impressed also with the part played by the electorate, all of you who turned out in record numbers to exercise with determination and pride your democratic right to vote.

So the new Government will face many challenges domestically and internationally in the year ahead. A close working partnership between Gibraltar and the United Kingdom will be essential and I wish Mr Picardo and his Ministers all success. They know they have my full constitutional support as did Mr Caruana and I pay tribute to him and his successive governments for the contribution made to Gibraltar over the last 15 years.

For most of us Christmas is a time of joy shared with family and friends. But there are many for whom Christmas may be a time of difficulty or sadness. We think of all those who may be suffering misfortune or bereavement, especially the family of Scott Torrance, a young man on the threshold of his career in the Royal Gibraltar Police, who was so recently killed in a tragic road accident. And, of course, we mourn the passing of a great Gibraltarian, Sir Bob Peliza. Our thoughts go out to Lady Peliza and her family, and to all those who for whom this Christmas may not be an easy time.

We bear in mind too those members of our Armed Forces deployed worldwide to ensure our safety and security including four members of the Royal Gibraltar Regiment who will be spending Christmas in Afghanistan – Major David King, Captain Jamie Allan, Lieutenant John Pitto, and Sgt Keith Dellipiani. We wish them well and think of their families who are facing Christmas apart from their loved ones. And right here on the Rock there are all those who will be on watch or working over the Christmas period so that the rest of us can enjoy ourselves in comfort and safety. Throughout the year but especially now I pay tribute to our voluntary and public sector workers and our emergency and essential services – our police, ambulance, fire and medical services, our hospital staff, charity workers and carers, and all those who supply our food, water, fuel, and power, and many more – we owe them all our thanks.

The last 12 months have flown by as they always seem to do and my wife and I are now spending our third Christmas in Gibraltar. And I’m very pleased to say that it will not be our last. I have opted to extend my appointment into a fourth year so we have almost another two years to enjoy life in Gibraltar. Next year is, of course, Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and I am delighted that their Royal Highnesses the Earl and Countess of Wessex will visit Gibraltar as part of the Diamond Jubilee programme. We await confirmation of the dates but this Royal Visit is very significant for Gibraltar and will be an important element of our jubilee celebrations here.

So, in spite of the many uncertainties, we have plenty of good things to look forward to next year. In the meantime, wherever you are and whatever you are doing this Christmas, I wish you a wonderful festive season and a peaceful and successful New Year. Happy Christmas!