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Washington Ireland Program: Lessons I learned in Congress

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14th September 2022

Washington Ireland Program: Lessons I learned in Congress

MCE account executive, Alix Hale, writes about her experience in The Washington Ireland Program (WIP).

From its inception in 1995, The Washington Ireland Program (WIP) aims to inspire and develop promising young leaders from Northern Ireland and Ireland through a programme of personal development, policy debates and community service. As a participant, the importance of listening and taking on board the perspectives of my classmates and the visiting speakers was essential in discovering strength in diversity. The significance of shared values became increasingly prevalent, as it created a strong and resilient foundation for constructive debates, professional development, and friendship.

Having spent this summer working on Capitol Hill, for a highly rated bipartisan Congressman, I witnessed first hand the strange phenomena that is bipartisanship. My time in Congressman Joyce's office was incredibly formative, as I watched him, and his team serve the Ohio 14 constituents with a dynamic and proactive approach.

Bipartisanship is often treated as a dirty word; however, the milestones being reached are of significance to the ordinary American person. By negating the crossfire of partisan politics, Congressman Joyce was able to sponsor legislation to help First Responders, address the opioid crisis and issues surrounding health care. During a planned press conference, I witnessed the power of the question asked and not necessarily the power in the answer given; this was a lesson in strapline, soundbite media!

Frequently bipartisanship is about looking at the bigger picture, sharing one goal but having different ways to get there. Having Democrats and Republicans come together to work on legislation that will have a genuine impact on their constituents shouldn’t be considered a controversial practice, especially when it achieves successful outcomes. Pure politics is ultimately about delivering for constituents and representing their views; not every voter will be represented by their candidate of choice only increases the importance of catering and working with people from across the political spectrum to ensure quality representation.

One accepts there is importance in sticking to your principles, bipartisanship does not have to threaten this. It isn’t always about compromise, it is about finding common ground and working through those issues and importantly not letting disagreements stop progress. This political framework offers a proactive approach for the delivery of funding and legislation that can strengthen ones’ political standing within a constituency.

Drawing parallels from my experience as a member of the WIP 2022 class, and as a Capitol Hill intern was the obvious commitment to serving others. On The Hill it was most notably demonstrated through bipartisan action, people setting aside their differences to serve the wider American population. At the core of the WIP values lies co-operation and service, subsequently every speaker session, every debate and every project outcome is geared to ensure these strengths are cemented in WIP culture. When participating in programme sessions this was a necessary element for the delivery of our policy papers and class discussions.

The ideology of bipartisan politics offers lessons for everyone, one might even argue that perhaps this is a lesson to be courted in our local politics. Recent global and geo-political events have not left many countries untouched, including the UK. With issues such as the cost-of-living crisis, looming strikes, rumours of snap elections and the Northern Ireland Protocol, it is increasingly difficult to map a way forward. A magic wand waved would see the much touted and wanted cross community co-operation within government delivering solutions for everyday difficulties and challenges faced by individuals, community groups, SMEs’ and businesses to name a few.

As the US strides towards the midterm elections after one of the most productive legislative sessions in recent times, it will be interesting to see which Party the electorate will reward and how it will affect the spirit of bipartisanship.