Tributes paid by members of the Assembly to bravery of the King

Tributes have been paid by members of the Northern Ireland Assembly to the bravery of the King after he shared his cancer diagnosis.

Stormont Speaker Edwin Poots confirmed he has written to the King to extend the best wishes of the administration following the announcement of Charles’s diagnosis.

First Minister Michelle O’Neill and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly extended their best wishes to the King on Monday evening as the news broke.

On Tuesday morning, Mr Poots, who has survived cancer, told MLAs he sent the Assembly’s “best wishes to His Majesty for a speedy recovery”.

Alliance MLA Sorcha Eastwood, who has spoken about her husband’s cancer treatment, proposed a matter of the day to allow MLAs to share their thoughts.

She paid tribute to the King, saying he did not have to share his diagnosis, but “did so to raise awareness of the issue with full heart and public spirit”.

“As well as members having an opportunity to express well-wishes and support at this time, I do think it is important for us to do exactly what the King has said, and to assist public understanding of cancer,” she said.

“Over 10,000 people in Northern Ireland are diagnosed each year and projected figures show that one in two of us will get cancer.

“We know that while great progress has been made, Northern Ireland lags behind to comparable countries in terms of survivability. We also know that the King revealed that it was only by accident that the cancer itself was found.

“Time is of the essence in battling this disease… so, while we take this opportunity to rightly offer support to the King in his fight ahead and wish him strength and recovery, it is also vital that we listen to the other part of his message for it is us in this chamber that the people of Northern Ireland have charged to address this, to make better, to get right, for them and their families.”

Ms O’Neill said she would like to concur with Ms Eastwood’s speech, and “extend my support to the King and wish him the very best and a speedy recovery”.

“I think that over the course of the last 12 hours since yesterday evening when the news became public, certainly the issue has hit home to so many families, and we’re all acutely aware of all those people out there who are going through a cancer journey,” she said.

“I can only say that I’m so glad that today we are here, that we are back at business and that we have work to do in terms of delivering on our own cancer strategies. We have a lot of work to do and I know that we’re up for that.”

Ms Little-Pengelly said it is “incredibly important that across this House we put formally our concerns and best wishes to His Majesty The King”.

“We all know that it’s not just the person who is going through that journey themselves, as difficult as that is, we also know the huge pressure put on the family and friends of those who are suffering,” she said.

Ms Little-Pengelly said cancer waiting lists were discussed at the first meeting of the reformed Executive on Monday.

“They are quite simply unacceptable and it’s a good indication of the kind of type of issue that we do need to collectively work together to try to resolve, and I am confident that there is that collective will just as there is in this House today to send our best wishes to the King,” she said.

UUP MLA Doug Beattie described cancer as a “terrible disease”, adding: “It respects nobody.”

He said: “The Ulster Unionist Party’s best wishes go to the King, and they go to his family who will have to deal with this for the long term, and we hope that he has a speedy recovery and we thank him for being open with the diagnosis that he has received, because that conversation cannot be hidden, it needs to be had more and more now than it has previously.”

SDLP MLA and leader of the Opposition Matthew O’Toole praised Ms Eastwood for speaking about her family’s experience and the King for being open about his diagnosis.

“The King has done something very brave, which is use the role that he holds, not simply to make this a private matter but to do something that takes courage at a very difficult time for him and his family, which is to talk about his cancer experience,” he said.

TUV MLA Jim Allister described “palpable shock and empathy across our nation” for the King, and “this pervasive and dreadful disease of cancer”.

“Of course it is a reminder to us that cancer has no respect for persons and therefore our first and primary thoughts are with the King himself, and with the Queen and his immediate family who have to all shoulder the burden,” he said.

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