Marita Moran

Colaiste Iognaid, Galway

This year I had the honour of taking part in the trip. It all began sometime last year when I heard about the quiz from a family member of mine . She urged me to do the quiz as she benefited greatly from her experience on the trip. It didn’t take much convincing on her part as I already took great interest in the work of the E.U. and social issues. I completed the quiz, which detailed  questions about Ireland and the E.U., and I hoped the outcome would be in my favor. Luckily it was, and the anticipation began.

I met the group in Brussels Airport, as I had been staying with family friends in Brussels the day previously, and I was instantly met with friendliness . At the time I was nervous as I thought I might be out of place after missing the initial part of the journey, but making friends was easy as every partaker was engaged and open to the people and the experiences we had on this trip .  We quickly boarded the bus to take part in a tour of Brussels, where we listened to the commentary of our guide as we watched from inside the bus, occasionally stepping out to get a better understanding of a sight. We finished our tour at Grand Place where I were amazed by the intricacy and the craftsmanship that went into the formation  these buildings. After a short lunch break, we made our way to the European Parliament, where Maria Walsh and her team greeted us, and ushered us into the parliament. As we walked through the halls Maria told us a story which struck me. She described the day when Brexit became official, describing it as “a sad day for democracy”. It felt surreal to imagine the hallway on a day like that, where those who are  pro-E.U. were visibly upset at the results , whereas the Brexiteers were at the top of the hallway, popping bottles of champagne in celebration of their so-called victory. This story is only one of the examples I can report where I realised the depths of importance these hallways which I found myself in behold. Shortly after that we found ourselves in the walls of the Hemicycle where Maria explained to us the meaning behind where one sits in the room. We met Commissioner Mairead McGuinness there and had a discussion with her which tackled subjects such as the importance of economics and business. I was struck by her confidence and motivation to make change. I felt very lucky to have met such a powerful person. We were then led into a boardroom where we were very generously gifted a bag with lots of useful items by the E.P.P. Group . There, we were introduced to Colm Markey, Frances Fitzgerald, Sean Kelly and Deirdre Clune. They gave us excellent insight into their work and the importance of what they do for our country. I definitely realised the direct importance of the work of the E.U. , specifically the E.P.P.. They made our voices feel valued, which made everyone feel more comfortable expressing their opinions throughout the few days. Lastly, we met Biliana Sirakova, who is the European Youth Coordinator on E.U. Issues. Before speaking to her and the other politicians, I never knew how accessible the E.U. was for me to attempt making change and to express my opinion politically. After a long day of discussions and sightseeing we returned to the hotel. Our hotel was in a great location in the city centre, and our rooms were spacious and comfortable. In the evening, after making some new friends throughout the day, I headed out for dinner with a few girls. It was a great chance to get to know one another. We enjoyed the evening greatly. I was very pleasantly surprised with the attitude towards non-native French speakers like myself during my time in Brussels. All interactions I had with Belgians were positive, as they enabled my French instead of judging it, which greatly motivated me to expand my knowledge on French.

On the second day, Wednesday the 15th, I began the morning with a fantastic breakfast which was provided to us by the hotel. I expanded my relationships with the other young people, as there was a great sense of eagerness from all parties towards  making friendships. Meeting other people my age from all corners of Ireland and all different walks of life gave me insight into the privilege I have living in a city, and having travelled a lot already at a young age. There was great emphasis put on  importance of broadening your horizons and forming relationships with people you would perhaps never cross paths with otherwise. We began our second day in the parliament in the same meeting room as the day before and further delved into topics such as mental health and the importance of languages. Sadly two M.E.P.s who were supposed to join us couldn’t make it, but that didn’t stop the flow of conversation we were having. We then had two hours of free time, where I saw some sights and had a look around the shops. I found Brussels to be quite a green, vibrant city and found even the most ordinary streets filled with fascinating architecture. After meeting our group again, we made the short journey to The Parlimentarium. We spent some time there engaging with the stimulus. I learned a great deal about the history and importance of the parliament. We had another period of free time after that which I spent roaming the streets of the city. We met again at the hotel briefly and departed for Greenwich Modern, a hotel in the city centre. The M.E.P.s, Colm Markey, Sean Kelly and Maria Walsh kindly rotated from table to table, sitting down with us and engaging in conversation. The ambiance was fantastic as the youth of Ireland were joined with our politicians to have an interesting yet amusing time. I felt very grateful for the generosity of Fine Gael who supported and encouraged us on  this trip, and gave me the opportunity to partake in something so inspiring and insightful. It was a truly great evening.

The following day, we woke up bright and early to board our bus to Ypres, for a guided tour of war graves. We travelled through the countryside before we were met with our lovely tour guide. He gave us great insight into the harsh realities of war. We saw countless Irish graves which were very striking, especially today, when a terrible war is taking place, and the sad realisation that history is repeating itself. We also visited one of  the largest war graves cemetery, which was monumental.  I believe it had a great impact on all of us, to see the true implications of the war right in front of our eyes.

After spending some time in the cemetery, were on our way again, to Ghent this time, which I find to be one of the most charming places I have ever visited. One of our group leaders, Aisling Moran commented as we were disembarking the bus that each corner you turn, the place becomes even more delightful, and that was very true. I greatly enjoyed walking through the city, and watching the boats go by, occasionally spotting a fellow member of the trip enjoying themselves on a boat tour. After spending a good portion of my time, wandering, shopping and eating, I found myself, along with my friend, sitting in a café right on the water watching as ducks and boats travelled past us . It was a fantastic way of bringing our trip to an end.

We made our way back to Brussels Airport, where I left the group to return to my family friends in Brussels. It was truly a memorable trip where I learned many different lessons. It helped me make new friends, to let my voice be heard by politicians and to explore a new part of the world. I cannot thank Fine Gael, particularly the members of the E.P.P who spent so much time with us over the course of the three days. I would like to emphasize how grateful I, and the rest of the group are for the work Maria Walsh put into this trip as it truly wouldn’t have been possible without her. She truly is an inspiration to us all. Without a doubt it also wouldn’t have been possible without Martin, Marie, Aisling and Therese. I am so grateful for their guidance throughout the course of the trip.