The institute hosted the assembly members as part of the Task of Government Program, the American component of a larger transition initiative to assist Northern Ireland Assembly members and civil servants in meeting the challenges of governing. The past week's slate of activities, titled "The Legislative Task," offered the Northern Ireland lawmakers an overview of the American model of governance, including the relationship between local, state and federal levels, as well as the role of the private sector.
During their stay, participants gathered on campus to hear talks by BC faculty members, discussed public-private partnerships with Boston city officials, and spoke with Connecticut legislators about current and future challenges in governing.
"It's been a very exciting and productive time," said Irish Institute Director Sean Rowland. "We are glad to be working so closely with the people who are such a key part of Northern Ireland's future. They have shown a great eagerness and sense of commitment in using this opportunity to add to their knowledge. They also have developed some relationships over here which could prove highly beneficial.
"The Assembly members also are looking at Boston College in the context of a long-term partnership," Rowland added. "They appreciate what we have been able to accomplish thus far, and hope we can do more."
"We're creating something totally new, so we want to bring the best practices we can find from other legislative bodies, other government authorities, and see how they will work in Northern Ireland," said Monica McWilliams, an Assembly member representing South Belfast from the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition.
"This experience not only gives us a chance to look at these new models," added McWilliams, "but to work with each other closely in ways we've not had a chance to before."
Executive Vice President Frank B. Campanella welcomed the participants at a Nov. 18 dinner at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel to celebrate their arrival. Their first full day included a two-hour meeting on "Development and Public-Private Partnership" at the Boston Redevelopment Authority, where they spoke with Massachusetts Port Authority Director Thomas O'Brien, his predecessor Alden Raine, and Massport Managing Director for International Marketing Charles Yellen.
The Assembly members spent Friday on campus, where they heard Assoc. Prof. John Tierney (Political Science) present a lecture on "Executive-Legislative Resources." After a lunch at Burns Library hosted by University President William P. Leahy, SJ, they engaged in a discussion on city-state and executive-legislative relationships, services and budget issues with Assoc. Prof. Dennis Hale (Political Science) and Massachusetts Municipal Association Director David Baer.
Participants returned to Boston College on Saturday for a session on negotiation and conflict resolution strategies.
On Monday, College of Advancing Studies faculty member Wallace Coyle and former Carroll School of Management faculty member Mary Louise Hatten led seminars on strategies for personal communications and leadership, respectively, before the Assembly members departed for a tour of the Connecticut Statehouse in Hartford.
The next day, the participants met with Connecticut legislature members and staff to discuss federalism, then held a roundtable with State Senate committee members on issues such as information technology, legislative oversight and accountability.
Later that night, the Irish Institute held a farewell reception for the participants at Connolly House.
McWilliams said that, as an urban planner, she had been particularly interested in the session at the BRA. Boston's transformation during the mid-20th century, she said, might hold some lessons for Northern Ireland as it seeks economic and social revitalization.
The session on personal communication also appealed to McWilliams, she said, "because when you're trying to practice peace, you have to be able to communicate, to stay on message."
Even as the Assembly members departed, the Irish Institute was preparing for the next phase of the Task of Government Program, "Effective Staffing for Legislators," which will take place Dec. 5-12. This will entail a similar week of activities to help political party staff members with their own role in the process of governance. Like the Assembly members, the staff will share experiences and ideas with their American counterparts on the city, state and federal levels.
The institute also is bringing together this week a group of young Irish leaders, who will be joined by Undergraduate Government of Boston College President Patrick McMahon '99, and Vice President Gerard O'Shea '99.
The 14-month Task of Government Program is funded in part through a grant from the United States Information Agency, with Boston College providing some funds as well as administrative and academic resources.
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