Eimear Friel - PSM
To say 2016 was a memorable year would be an understatement. The world was a different place by the end of it. To be in the role of Private Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade is a privilege at the best of times; in 2016 it was unforgettable.
As the year opened, commemorations was the theme. In the early days of January I found myself on a plane to New York where the Minister would launch the 2016 Global and Diaspora commemorations programme. It was a time to be immensely proud of just how far we had travelled as a nation in one hundred years. Commemorations threaded its way throughout the year. I’ve seen enough wreath-laying ceremonies to write the handbook on the pitfalls – don’t wear high heels! And I’m fairly sure I could join the Army Band and put in a passable version of the National Anthem.
And then we woke up on the morning of 24 June and our nearest neighbours had voted for a change that would have a profound effect on Ireland: Brexit. Everything stepped up a gear and the Ministerial programme of engagement got even more intense. Protecting Ireland’s interests as best we could from the impacts of Brexit became the Government’s priority; to see close up and be a small part of the response to this decision was both humbling and instructive.
But routine business carried on. Consular and passport queries continued. Regular visits to Belfast, Armagh, and Derry and monthly trips to Brussels or Luxembourg for Foreign Affairs Council meetings remained a feature of the diary. As we racked up the destinations from the near - London, Paris, Berlin, Bratislava, Strasbourg – to the far – Mongolia, Beijing, Vietnam, Riyadh, UAE – I learnt the art of rapid packing and working on the go.
A few memories stand out: seeing President Obama receive the famous bowl of Shamrock; walking down 5th Avenue on St Patrick’s Day; descending into Riyadh seeing desert like I’ve never seen before; visiting our troops in the Golan Heights; sitting in a yurt in Mongolia; and waking up to an attempted coup in Turkey which would result in an unexpected diversion to Beijing.
But by far the greatest impression I will take from 2016 is of the amazing colleagues we all work with across the globe, whose dedication to Ireland and who we are goes above and beyond, and the overwhelming appreciation of the scale of what goes on in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade day in, day out.