DAY 5- Belfast, Ireland
The morning began with a visit to the Linen Hall Library. Founded in 1788, it is the oldest library in Belfast and is one of Northern Ireland’s most important cultural attractions. It operates as a modern, fully functioning library. However, it is perhaps best known for its many well respected internationally renowned collections. The tour of the library let us connect with the early days of Belfast and with the political struggles that have persisted in Northern Ireland. Because of the collection on the Troubles and Peace Process, the library is often used by those seeking an end to conflicts throughout the world. Visitors from Israel, Palestine, and the Basque region in Spain frequent the library in the hope of finding a road to peace. It is remarkable that this treasure of a library has survived throughout the years.
Our delegation next went to Belfast City Hall where we had a guided tour and had the unique honor of meeting with the recently elected Lord Mayor, Arden Carson, in his private parlor. The Lord Mayor if very approachable and a butcher by profession. He is a part of the Sinn Fein party in Belfast, and the first Lord Mayor of the new Belfast Super council. He was sincere and spent a good deal of time with our delegation. He told us that the Peace Process was a work in progress and that the country had not moved past the conflict. He did feel that it was positive that Northern Ireland and Belfast were more mature as a society. He felt that the Peace Process was solid, but imperfect, and the political process less so. He felt that the political agenda of Sinn Finn was the reunification of Ireland but the status quo was the reality. Several days after we meet with the Lord Mayor, he was pictured in the Irish Times newspaper meeting with Prince Charles in Belfast. This was historic and symbolic of the theme of healing and reconciliation.
After meeting with the Lord Mayor, our delegation had lunch with the Law Society of Northern Ireland which was followed by a presentation by the Chief Executive of the Law Society, Alan Hunter. Also present were the Senior Vice President, Richard Palmer, the Junior Vice President, John Guerin, and Presiding District Judge, Fiona Bagnall. The Law Society is similar to Bar Associations in America and the lawyers of Northern Ireland are facing similar issues as the lawyers in America. :The Law Society of Northern Ireland gets no government funding and is completely independently funded. It is a mandatory bar and dues are $1150 per year. The core principles are: 1) Independent Judiciary, 2) Independent legal profession, and 3) Access to all people. The Chief executive spoke of the challenges they face, such as safeguarding the independence of the legal profession, mechanisms for dealing with the past, ensuring adequate funding and efficiencies for the legal profession, and adequate funding for legal aid. He spoke of the economy and how it is affecting the legal profession. For example, they are coming out of a long recession. Like in America, funding is being cut for legal aid and lawyers are scrambling economically. Their malpractice insurance is high. The figure of 18,000 Pounds was given to us. On a positive note for them, they are the recipient of legal outsourcing for London firms and this provides needed revenue for their lawyers. Their system is set up between Solicitors and Barristers. The Solicitors get the cases and, if needed, refer to the Barristers who, in theory, are the experts who go to court. They rely on relations with Solicitors and on their reputation for cases which by its nature limits entry into this area for many lawyers. In short, the challenges being faced by the lawyers of Northern Ireland are similar to the challenges being faced by the American legal profession.
We left Belfast this morning for Dublin. The weather was rainy, and the skies were cloudly and gray but the clouds were moving quickly. Here the weather changes many times in a day. The drive was a bit sad, as we were leaving a city with people who had suffered so much and who spoke so often of justice. One cannot but admire the courage and determination of the people of Northern Ireland. They still have terrible emotional scares and wounds. They told us not to feel sorry for them as they are building a better future. The attached photo of a rainbow symbolizes theirr situation. A slogan mentioned to me by my wife was – Believe in Belfast.
We arrived at Trinity College before noon and met with Senator Ivana Backik who teaches Criminal Law at the Law School. She received her Masters from the London School of Economics. She is proficient knows 4 languages, is a rising star in the country and is a bundle of energy. Senator Backik and her colleagues at the School were busy campaiging in the upcoming
National Referendum on Same Sex Marriage and lowering the eligibility age to be president. She is a visible advocate for both. Trinity College in Dublin is the oldest and most prestigious universities in Ireland, having been founded in 1592. The Law School was established in 1740. There is no tuition, but the students pay 3000 euros per year as a registration fee.
This visit was followed up by a visit to the Trinity College Library which houses the Book of Kells. This was followed by a visit to Ireland’s National Parliament where we observed debate in the lower chamber, and a personal guided tour of the capital building. The day ended with checking into our new hotel, which is quite nicè.
Journal entries by: Richard Pena
To read about Day 7 click HERE!
To view photos click HERE!