Slated to begin next month, "The Task of Government" - which combines classroom presentations, site visits and other elements - will be the American component of a larger transition program aimed at helping Northern Irish Assembly members and civil servants carry out their duties effectively as Northern Ireland seeks to overcome its troubled past.
Northern Ireland Secretary of State Mo Mowlam visited the University on Sept. 8 to formally announce the program at an event in Burns Library. With University President William P. Leahy, SJ, and Irish Institute Director Sean Rowland looking on, Mowlam praised BC's role in Northern Ireland's efforts to foster educational, social, economic and leadership development.
Mo Mowlam, Britain's secretary of state for Northern Ireland and a key figure in the Irish peace process, speaks to a gathering in Burns Library on Sept. 8 as University President William P. Leahy, SJ, looks on . (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
"It isn't the first time Boston College and Fr. Leahy have been so central to this process," Mowlam told the audience, which included members and guests of the University community, and media representatives. "I'm pleased ... to acknowledge the work that Boston College has carried out over the years. The advantage in coming here is [program participants] can learn best practice in delivering services to citizens. They can examine comparisons and build on this.
"I am looking forward to a very positive outcome," Mowlam said.
"Boston College has been actively involved in academic and professional programming in Northern Ireland for many years," said Rowland. "The University has also shown a leadership role in providing a forum for speakers and delegations from a wide range of political groups in Northern Ireland. We are, therefore, well placed to provide programming suited to the political requirements of its participants."
The 14-month program will be funded in part through a grant from the United States Information Agency. Boston College also will provide some funding as well as administrative and academic resources. The program will begin with a series of seminars in Northern Ireland during Oct. 27-29, at which Prof. Marc Landy (Political Science) will meet with assembly members representating different political parties and discuss the program's goals and needs.
Other elements of "The Task of Government" will include visits by program participants to local, Massachusetts and federal legislative offices and other governmental agencies in the US, and discussions with academic experts - including Political Science associate professors Dennis Hale and John Tierney - on topics such as legislative relations, federalism and policy analysis. Landy and Rowland will lead a delegation to the assembly next fall to talk about the program and its results.
Interviewed prior to the press conference, Mowlam said the relatively quick progression of events in Northern Ireland - from the Good Friday peace agreement to the elections for the new assembly in early summer - created a great need for a comprehensive program to help the neophyte politicians grasp the many facets of government leadership. Boston College was a natural choice as a partner in this initiative, she said, given its record in providing such resources.
"The good thing about Boston College is they haven't been fair-weather friends," she said. "They were with us during the tough times as well as the good. So when they came to us with the experience and ideas, and the offer of funding, it was a package that no one could reject."
Mowlam emphasized that the program was attuned to needs and views expressed by its participants, and not conceived as indoctrination from the top down.
"The meat in the sandwich is for the assembly members to decide," she explained. "It's not something that we, or someone in an academic tower, decided was what they needed or what was good for them. It's a two-way process and it's their choosing what they want to learn. What Boston College has provided is the expertise and the knowledge that makes it possible."
"We're not Irish experts and we don't claim to be," said Landy. "But we are well-versed in American political institutions and how they work. For all the problems we see and hear about, American history is rich with instances of state and local political institutions coping with things Northern Ireland will face. As we present the American experience, we will highlight issues and concepts that could be relevant to these new assembly members."
Landy noted that program coordinators recognize that the impact of years of sectarian turmoil is not easily erased, and are sensitive to the concerns of both Catholic and Protestant communities.
"Our commitment to even-handedness," he said, "is total."
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