Visit to Stormont

From November 22

Today was freaking amazing. Josh and I spent the whole day looking each other trying not to giggle.

After class today, Josh and I went up to Stormont, the Northern Ireland Parliment, with our community organization.  The organization hosted for a question and answer session with the young people they work with and some of the politicians. The Deputy First Minister opened up the session with a little welcoming speech. My favorite line was, “Don't be afraid to ask the hard questions, that's what we're here for- though I'm going to leave…” It was funnier in context.

The question and answer session was really interesting, there was two rounds of questioning- two rounds of politicians/party representatives/MLAs answering. They included the Minister for Justice, a member of the Department for employment and learning committee, the youngest MLA, and many others who's names and titles I forgot to write down.

I learned some really interesting things, like the fact that because of the government structure the departments are set up so independently that it's difficult for them to communicate- which means members of the Executive committee can not know why a deal was decided on (the one at hand was a spending cut in Education that no one could answer why it had happened.)

The session was a lot of fun- the mediator guy was really good. He was really good at monitoring the time, while also letting discussions continue when he thought they were worth it. And he was an instigator man! He would pick up on small things very quickly and was willing to pull it out, and he also stepped in if he thought the parties were arguing too much.

Even outside of the political talks, I had fun. I was asked to write the names cards for each of the politicians. I still claim that whoever made that choice made a bad decision, because my handwriting is bad. But they all had legible name cards, though not the neatest or prettiest things in the world. I had to re-write several of them more than once, because of changes, misspellings, and once one guy going by a different name than the one I was given.

After that we moved on to a forum theater performance. It was pretty cool, I love that style of play. And one of the MLAs (I think that's what she was…) jumped in and participated.

After all the Bytes events had finished, Josh and I were invited to a Thanksgiving event- hosted by the Speaker of the House. Our thought process was, “I don't really know what's going to happen, but I'll go because it's hosted by the Speaker of the House!” So we accepted the invitation- which meant instead of heading home at 5 we were there until nearly 8.

The Thanksgiving thing started at 6, so Josh and I were sent to hang out in the library for an hour. We hung out in the LIBRARY at parliament! It was awesome! I made Josh take pictures when we were alone. We kept looking at each other going, “Is this really happening?” And we browsed through the books, and geekily pulled one off at a time to read a bit from it. I looked at books on slang, cultures of the world, modern ethnic conflict, and Freakonomics. It was a blast. I still can't believe it happened.

A bit after 6, our lovely host remembered us, she admitted she forgot us, which I'm totally fine with because A) the lady organized the Bytes event and the Thanksgiving event, and B) the library was awesome. We then were taken to the Thanksgiving event. It was basically a bunch of politicians, diplomats, and some other people who worked for the US or the NI government mingling/networking. The Speaker of the House and the Consulate General from the US gave speeches about the relationship of NI and the US and on Thanksgiving. And Josh and I were introduced to several diplomats, including the Consulate General. The Consulate General also invited Josh and I to visit the Consulate and met with him! It was so surreal. I couldn't believe it.

I still find it hard to believe. I've asked Josh several times if today has been real. He responded that if I wanted him to he could pinch me. I told him, “No thanks, my aching feet are enough proof… And anyway if this were a dream I'd be in higher heels.”

Written by Hannah Kurtz