My name is Oisín Bowyer, a pupil in TYC. I came across an amazing opportunity that Ms. McGeehin highlighted to all TYs. It consisted of an essay competition entitled ‘Honouring the Past, Imagining the Future’.
When I heard that the prize was a week with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Dublin, I immediately wanted to know more. I wrote an essay, sent it off and expected nothing. Luckily however, I was successful and secured a much coveted place on the programme.
The purpose of these internships is “to give secondary students the opportunity to share their views on Ireland’s role in the world, and to get involved in the discussion about how the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade promotes abroad the values, interests and economic wellbeing of Ireland”.
Each day at the Department addressed a different aspect of their work. For example, on day one we had a talk from the Directors of the Passport Division. They spoke to us about the regulation, legislation and production of these vital documents that we take for granted. Producing the passport is a timely process, not to mention it takes a €6 million machine to do the job! The underground production room was like a minefield of flashing lights and big buttons (clearly way above my own understanding)! I even managed a little chinwag with the Minister and he wasn’t too pushed on answering my questions regarding the direction that our next government will take! Nonetheless, I can thank him for the afternoon tea! Putting political exchanges aside, it was time for a talk from the ‘Protocol’ Division and what they do. We were tasked with organizing a state visit for Queen Elizabeth II. We had to arrange transportation, accommodation, seating and lots of other intricate details that have to be in place to accommodate such an event. So much can be packed into one day!
Day 2 dawned and the Consular and Communications Division briefed us on the untimely death of an Irish man in Magaluf. We were tasked with breaking the news at a press conference and informing his next of kin. This exercise really tested teamwork and organization! Then high ranking officers from the Defence Forces spoke to us about the role of the Irish Forces in UN peacekeeping missions abroad, the countries in which they are currently deployed and what it’s like on the frontline.
Wednesday was spent in Belfast. Firstly, we paid a visit the Grand Orange Hall Museum. This was really educational and engaging, as my knowledge of the group was fairly limited. We learned about the organisation and what they stand for. We also had the chance to challenge Orangemen on their stance on issues such as flags, parades and violence. Moving on, we visited the JointSecretariat of the Irish Republic’s Embassy to Northern Ireland, Ruairí de Búrca and discussed the peace process and in particular the way the Good Friday Agreement has affected life both nationally and globally. What an honest, dedicated and interesting man he was! Then were a bus tour of the Falls Road and Shankhill Road. The tension and hurt between both communities was very evident in both the high walls and the colourful murals. I hope in my lifetime we’ll be able to demolish these walls.
My favourite experience by far were the visits we made to embassies. Our group visited the Spanish, Mexican and Ethiopian embassies throughout Thursday. This proved hugely interesting as we got to meet with the ambassadors and discuss Ireland’s relations with their home countries, whether it was bilateral trade agreements, aid programmes and other cultural links. I certainly enjoyed it!
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, so Friday was emotional. After meeting the Secretary General, Niall Burgess and Minister Charles Flanagan T.D, there was a luncheon reception to celebrate the end of the week’s events. Comments were made on how Department staff felt that ‘the future was in good hands’ should any of us decide to take a career in diplomacy. I certainly gained insight into a totally different field of work; diplomacy. Diplomats do so much more than just deskwork. Often you’re on the ground doing the dirty work. One ex-ambassador told of how she saved an Irish woman from an armed militia group in Pakistan. Clearly the department plays a huge role in protecting us and our country’s best interests wherever it may be! Diplomacy is almost like a vocation and not just a job!
I am just so lucky and grateful that I was afforded such an opportunity to get up close with Department officials and chat with them. You meet so many likeminded people and really make new friends. From trying out mock exercises of that style of work, to dining with the great and good, it’s an experience I won’t forget for the rest of my life! To any prospective Transition Year student who thinks this might interest them, I strongly urge you to enter the competition. Who knows, perhaps you could be as lucky as I and twenty-nine others were this year!