Inside the bubble

Living

ON HOME GROUND MEP Maria Walsh with Hannah Nevin on a recent meet up in Westport, back home in Mayo.

When Tiernaur’s Hannah Nevin was offered the opportunity of an internship with MEP Maria Walsh in Brussels, she jumped at the chance. Here, she describes her experience of working and living in the heart of Europe

Hanna Nevin

The humanitarian field has always been an interest of mine. Given the interconnected nature of politics and humanitarian work, I was delighted to be offered a traineeship in the European Parliament by Midlands-North-West MEP and fellow Mayo woman, Maria Walsh. For many years, it has been a goal of mine to work in an EU Institution, and I am very grateful to MEP Maria Walsh for offering me this invaluable experience.
At the beginning of 2022, I moved to Brussels to begin working with MEP Walsh and her team, and I soon learned that the spirit of the European Parliament is fast and thriving. No two days are ever the same when you work in the office of a Member of Parliament, and keeping up with Maria’s busy schedule is certainly a 24/7 commitment.
Of course, I also found myself working in the backdrop of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. An unforeseen event by all accounts, to say that it added to the hustle and bustle of daily life in Brussels, would be an understatement.
During my time in the European Parliament, I was given an extensive insight into the daily life of a politician. I learned how democracy and legislative processes function within the EU Institutions, and I soon realised that the policymaking process among the 27 EU member States is by no means an easy feat. The complexity of each individual policy is one part of the jigsaw, but it is also important to note that while all countries are working together on an international level, they are also focused on their own national interests, with each MEP keeping their individual constituency as their number one priority. This in itself makes each decision making and negotiating process both lengthy and challenging.
From observing the Irish MEPs and Commissioners within the EU Institutions, I can honestly say that as a nation, we have great representation across all political parties in Brussels. The Irish MEPs work diligently to ensure the voices of all Irish citizens are heard at a European level, and I firmly believe that everyone is doing the very best they can.
MEP Walsh sits on the Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL), Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs Meetings (LIBE), and the Culture and Education Committee (CULT). She is also Vice President of the LGBTI Intergroup. This means that in the office, we dealt with many varying topics daily, such as mental health, employment, equality, fundamental rights, culture and education. I attended plenary sessions in both Brussels and Strasbourg (France), and this allowed me to gain first-hand experience of the process that occurs as MEPs vote on different legislative files on behalf of the constituents they represent.
I felt my voice was valued and that I got the chance to make some real contributions to the team. From the outset, I was given responsibility and felt that my perspective was listened to and taken on board. In the office, I was involved in communications processes such as creating social media content, undertaking research, carrying out administrative tasks, handling constituent’s queries, organising events and meetings and helping to host groups from the Midlands-North-West constituency, and indeed all across Ireland. My experience working on Maria’s team has helped to further develop my confidence in myself to use my voice and trust in my capabilities.
Witnessing a young woman from County Mayo succeed in European politics – working towards establishing EU mental health policies, closing the gender pay gap, advocating for rights and better treatment for those that are discriminated against – was refreshing. 
Watching her journey has given me confidence in the fact that a young female from Mayo can triumph in a traditionally male dominated sphere. I was inspired by her equality-driven political values, as well as her dedication to her work and her constituency of the Midlands-North-West.
For me, the most interesting aspect of the traineeship was having the opportunity to follow the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) meetings – a committee for which Maria is a substitute member.
Coming from a human rights background, it was interesting to follow the meetings that deal with developing migration and asylum policies, the protection of the rule of law and fundamental rights, ensuring data protection and privacy, and combatting discrimination and international crime.
Gaining this invaluable experience in Europe has made me even more determined to be involved in policy making in the migration and asylum field in the future. I would like to do the best I can to help displaced communities, and my fundamental principles are rooted in a human-rights based approach that focuses on equality, inclusion, integration and respect for human dignity.
The Irish community is thriving both inside the EU institutions and within the city of Brussels itself. Whether it is the MEPs, the parliamentary assistants, fellow trainees or individuals that work in the many companies and organisations that encompass the ‘EU bubble’, everyone is there to lend you a helping hand and offer you a céad míle fáilte. There are an endless amount of employment opportunities in the city within all sectors, and the Irish people have established a great reputation as diligent workers and are well respected across our other EU member states. Being part of this community and seeing the work that is being carried out in the European Union on behalf of the Irish citizens has made me even more proud to be Irish.
Go raibh míle maith agat go MEP Maria Walsh, the team: Niamh Gurn, Barry McCarthy, Éimear Deery and to former MEP Jim Higgins, for his guidance and support on this journey. Undoubtedly, this was an experience that I will never forget.

Hannah Nevin is a 25-year-old from Tiernaur, Co Mayo, and is a daughter of Anne and John Nevin of Nevin’s Newfield Inn. Her next goal is to gain experience working within one of United Nations’ bodies. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Spanish and English Literature and a Master’s of Science in Human Rights. She spent five months working with MEP Maria Walsh and her team in the European Parliament.