Marshall Scholars Visit Northern Ireland and Ireland
Deputy First Minister Mr McGuiness, MACC Chair Dr Dow, Marshall Scholar Mr Gardiner, First Minister Mr Robinson
From 29 March through 2 April, Marshall scholars embarked on a five-day tour of Northern Ireland and Ireland. The trip was headlined by the opportunity to meet Northern Ireland's heads of state, First Minister Peter Robinson of the Democratic Unionist Party and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin. The longtime political rivals, now leading a coalition government, spoke together on the new opportunities afforded by devolution and the successes and ongoing challenges of peace in Northern Ireland. Briefings with government officials Dr Deirdre Griffith and Mr Pascal McCulla gave scholars the opportunity to learn about the history and logistics of Northern Ireland's devolved government, re-established in May 2007, and issues of diversity, immigration and national identity.
The scholars' time in Northern Ireland included a poignant and eye-opening mural tour of Belfast, a historical tour of Londonderry and a visit to the traditional Belleek pottery factory. They visited Queens University Belfast and the University of Ulster - Magee Campus, where they learned about cutting-edge research in areas such as sonic arts, cultural heritage and artificial intelligence. The last 24 hours were spent in Dublin, where scholars met with Taoiseach officials to learn about Ireland's economic development. The trip also highlighted Northern Ireland's natural beauty, with a trip to Giants Causeway on the northern coast and an overnight stay on the shores of scenic Lough Erne in Enniskillen. Evenings gave scholars the chance to experience traditional Irish music and pub life - and to discover that Guinness really is better in Ireland.
Scholars said the multi-faceted exposure to politics and history opened their eyes to both the painful past of Northern Ireland's sectarian divisions and the political progress it has made in recent years. "We heard about the controversy from multiple external levels and niches - all the way from the First Minister to the nail technician at Enniskillen", said scholar Alyssa Wechsler. "For me that both clarified and entangled the situation in a way that led to an overall richer understanding".
Scholar Matt Linsley agreed. "I wasn't really aware of how serious the tensions were there. It was interesting to really discover that firsthand", he said. Yet in light of the country's history, he said, "it was remarkable to see how far the region had progressed and moved forward".
Report written by 2008 Marshall Scholar Katie Huston (University of Sussex).