THE Queen has praised the efforts of all those in Wales who worked to mitigate the coronavirus pandemic, in a speech delivered at the opening of the sixth session of the Welsh Senedd.
With the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall sat nearby, the Queen, 95, said: “I have spoken before about how recent times have, in many ways, brought us closer together.
“We all owe a debt of gratitude to those who have risen so magnificently to the challenges of the last 18 months – from key workers to volunteers, who have done so much to serve their communities.
“They are shining examples of the spirit for which the Welsh people are so renowned, a spirit which I have personally encountered so many times.”
It is the first time in five years the Queen has visited Wales.
The event was due to take place shortly after the election in May, but was delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Queen’s speech was followed by addresses from first minister Mark Drakeford and Senedd llywydd (presiding officer) Elin Jones.
Drakeford said the sixth session of the Senedd was a period for the people of Wales to “look to the future” and he wanted to meet the “challenges” ahead by promoting “prosperity, equality and well-being for everyone in Wales”.
In his speech he also praised the efforts of all those who fought to mitigate the coronavirus pandemic: “We have seen the best of Wales in our health and care system, the shop workers, our teachers, all those public service workers, the businesses and volunteers, whose commitment, dedication and sheer hard work has helped to keep Wales open during this most difficult of times.”
Commenting on the future, he added: “As we look beyond the pandemic, we recognise that we still have many challenges ahead.
“To meet them we will use all of our powers to promote prosperity, equality and well-being for everyone in Wales. And to turn ourselves to that other great crisis of our times, a crisis in climate change and the loss of biodiversity.”
At the Senedd, the royal party was treated to recorded and live performances from Welsh artists, centred around the theme Your Voice.
Ahead of the visit, Drakeford had said the Queen opening the Senedd “marks the significance of the Parliament” in the nation.
He told Sky News: “Decisions are made in four different parliaments and I know the Queen has always taken very seriously the job that she does in marking that.
“As I say, she’s never missed an opening of a new Senedd term and despite the circumstances, and her age, she will be making that effort again today.”
Members of the royal family greeted pupils from Mount Stuart Primary School at the front of the Senedd, where the Welsh and British national anthems were played, and a royal salute was given by the Royal Navy with the Band of the Royal Marines.
The WNO Youth Opera – which has not performed live in 18 months due to coronavirus restrictions – performed Ar Lan y Mor.
Other party leaders, members of Wales’s first Youth Parliament and local dignitaries who have supported their communities during the pandemic, also had the chance to meet the royal party.
More to follow.