Yesterday evening a group of us were the guest of the Irish Green Party at Leinster House. Organised via Damien Mulley through Ciaran Cuffe's office, we were invited to talk to the politicians and take a look at the inner workings of one of the most important buildings in the country.
It was an interesting mix of bloggers, members of the boards.ie political forum and journalists. We were welcomed by Ciaran Cuffe and Damien Connon, the Communications Manager for the Party. After a brief orientation we were brought on a tour of the offices in Leinster House - more modern perhaps than the exterior suggests but hardly luxurious. I was struck by the juxtaposition between the architectural beauty of the building and the function aspects of how this was built.
Ciaran Cuffe's office was a perfect example of a busy and well used workspace. Maps adorned the walls, particularly of his own consituency of Dun Laoighre and evidence of both his past in architecture and town planning and his current role as Party Whip and spokesperson on Transport and Marine; Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Foreign Affairs.
His openness and frankness in discussing the pressures of his job was refreshing, as he explained how, despite how it might appear, his day was filled with meetings, hearings, emails and the simple matter of getting things done.
A wordle on his noticeboard reveals a lot about him and his commitment to the job
while his desk, though admittedly tidier than either of mine, shows a hectic workload
Following this tour - taken in two segments due to the size of the group - John Gormley, party leader, joined us to discuss some of the issues he faces in his role, in how Leinster House operates and how the requirements of his role can be both frustrating and, in the current climate, more important than ever.
With probing questions from Mark Coughlan, Ciara Brennan, Gav Reilly and Cian O' Flaherty among others, they handled all questions frankly, with fairness and a certain amount of resignation to the fact that the only answers were the honest ones.
We were joined briefly by Senator Deirdre de Burca as talk turned to online engagement, what parties can do (and shouldn't do) and just what people do and realistically should expect from a politician online.
I feel honesty was the main thrust of the feedback and while the conversation was brief, it signified a need for more of this dialogue to take place. Our presence and their invitation indicated a willingness to talk, listen and learn, which in itself is an important development and indication.
We then were invited to the public gallery to watch a vote take place. It was a pretty full house - all of the main labour faces I'd recognise were there, though I didn't spot Brian Cowen. The photos (very sneakily (and illegally) taken were at 20:55 which shows that it's not all holidays and expenses...
Leaving, politicians like Joan Burton, Jackie Healy Ray, Mary White and others greeted us, some aware of who we were and why we were there, others just friendly.
One of the striking things about Leinster House is the side that many people don't get to see - the amazing art, sculpture and building decoration in the building. I was particularly impressed with some of the sculptures and the care that is taken in placing them. Some shots below:
Leaving Leinster House after a drink in the bar and a chat with some friends and twitter acquaintances, we took the chance to strike a pose. Who knows when the next time the opportunity will come?
Overall, an interesting introduction into the workings of the building and some of what goes on there. There is a change in how politics is run and how politicians communicate both online and off, and I firmly believe that parties interested in engaging with "new media" (a phrase I detest but will have to do) will be the ones to succeed. It's a learning curve for everyone but talking to those who talk to others is always a good thing.
My thanks to Damien for arranging, to Damian, Tim, Ciaran and all in the Green Party office for the welcome and hospitality and to everyone else for providing good company and interesting conversation. Very impressed.