President Barack Obama may be making a whistle-stop visit to Ireland next month, but when he returns to the United States he will be followed by a young South Tipperary man who has been awarded an internship on Capitol Hill - and possibly in the White House.
Karl Ryan, the son of Eamon and Shirley from Newcastle, is a final-year student of Law and Irish at UCC and has been awarded the internship as part of the North-South Washington Ireland Programme for Service and Leadership.
His placement will be for six months with an institution or congressman on Capitol Hill, in Washington DC. In other years two of the group have been given internships in the White House itself but Karl doesn’t yet know if those places will be allocated to this year’s group.
Karl first heard about the program when the Director, Bryan Patten, gave a lecture at UCC where he spoke about the origins of the Washington Ireland Program as a key element of the peace and reconciliation process after the Troubles, something which recent events in the North have shown to still be relevant.
He also spoke about the aims of the organisation in encouraging and enabling a new generation of leader who would not only be idealistic about their country’s future, but who would also be capable of putting these ideals into action. “From my own personal perspective as someone who considers himself civically engaged, this is something which really appealed to me, and I knew that I had to put myself forward for this opportunity.”
The Washington Ireland Program brings together young leaders from North and South for personal and profession development. Karl explained to The Nationalist: “As part of the Program, we undertake an internship in political offices in D.C. with previous participants going to places such as The White House, Capitol Hill, Congress, the Senate, and the Irish Embassy.”
He won’t know which place he will be interning for definite until mid-May.
The selection process for the program is intensive. First there is a written application, which involved a lot of personal reflection for Karl about how he currently helps advance his ideals within his community. “For me this involved talking about my active role on campus e.g. being a volunteer for St Vincent de Paul and St Anthony’s Community Centre where I tutored disadvantaged students after school. It also involved talking about how I was engaged with social issues, for this I discussed my work as an intern for MarriagEquality Ireland, my passion for the Irish language, as a fluent Irish-speaker and my work with other social-activist organisations.” Successful candidates from this stage are then called to an interview stage in Dublin or Belfast and eventually the original group of 400 hopeful applicants is whittled down to 26.
Looking forward to the experience Karl told The Nationalist: “Being the American centre of power, D.C. never really sleeps. Thus, the first thing I was told was ‘to develop a taste for coffee, because you’ll need to drink a lot of it, and it is your friend!’
“When we are over there I will be working in a full-time job somewhere around Capitol Hill (or maybe 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue!). As someone who would consider himself a liberal, I am hoping to work with a conservative Republican congress person. I hope that this will strengthen some of my political opinions, change others, and overall, broaden my perspectives so that I may, more fully, understand differing political ideals, even if I don’t necessarily agree with them! We will have to go to daily talks with members of Congress and other key “influencers of change” who will advise us about how to implement ideas, in the past this has included individuals like Justice Ruth Ginsberg and Colin Powell. We will also be working on a number of service projects with disadvantaged schools and NGO’s based around D.C, I consider this to be one of the most exciting elements of the Program as it allows us to put our skills into action. During the course of our stay we will take a trip to New York to visit the United Nations and the New York Stock Exchange, where traditionally a member of the WIP class gets to ring the bell to open or close trading! Basically it will be a non-stop Summer of learning unique skills which will hopefully be put to good use when we get back.
“I am also looking forward to some of the more social elements to D.C. We will be living with families around the D.C. area which is supposed to be quite a highlight. D.C. itself it the cultural, as well as political capital of the U.S. with there being literally hundreds of museums including the world-renowned Smithsonian museums. I look forward to the odd evening free, getting lost in some of these museums.”
Although he is only 21 and hasn’t given much thought to his future career, however he says he does want to work with organisations which empower the citizen and which seek to change our political system so that the role of the citizen in making decisions about the future of their country is increased. He has a strong interest in politics. “I love to follow the political goings-on, especially in America. Secondly, I have an interest in domestic politics in the sense that I think that it’s only through ordinary individuals such as myself taking an interest in the political system and the decisions being made therein, that we will see a real improvement in the quality and integrity of that system and those decisions. We all have a responsibility to be actively interested in politics.”