For the first semester of my third year of the degree in Politics and International Relations at the University of Limerick, I had the privilege of having been selected for one of the most coveted opportunities in the work experience programme. This opportunity is, of course, the high profile internship in the Department of Public Expenditureand Reform (D/PER).
Having previously only studied the theory of public service design and delivery in university, I was fascinated to learn the reality of how Government Departments actually function. I was quick to learn that Government Departments are not the mysterious bureaucratic machines they can sometimes be depicted as, but are in fact a group of committed individuals working diligently for the greater good for the country and for the public we serve.
On my first day in DPER, I was curious to learn whether I would be placed on the “reform” or “expenditure” side. I was met by my line manager Michael Perkins who brought me for a coffee and the dreaded introduction to my new colleagues in the Reform and Delivery Office. I expected it to be somewhat quiet given the Dáil summer recess but preparations for the annual ‘Public Service Innovation and Development Conference’ were well underway.
The logistics of this conference essentially hoovered up the vast majority of my summer in the office, which was really enjoyable for me, as I got to exercise some of the international relations side of my degree, through making contact with various international speakers and academics from Portugal, Estonia, Great Britain and the OECD in Paris. This conference was also the first time I got the opportunity to be involved in a public procurement and learn all the rules and regulations associated with safeguarding and achieving the best value for the public’s money. The conference in Dublin Castle was a major success and taught me that teamwork excludes no one. It was delivered by everyone. All the way from the Assistant Secretary, Lucy, to include the whole Reform Team, not just my immediate colleagues.
As the year went on I became involved in other interesting work streams, for example getting the chance to create a knowledge base for the new Single Unified ‘Government of Ireland’ Identity with my line manager, Michael. I was also busy working on the logistics of a number of other events, whilst also helping out with some of the other day-to-day tasks that go on in the background, unbeknownst to the public. Filing, preparing briefings, making travel arrangements and preparing for meetings are probably not the most glamorous tasks around but without them the wheels of Government cannot turn!
Being a student of politics, it would probably surprise no-one that meeting Minister Paschal Donohoe and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar were the ‘political’ highlights of my internship and I will treasure those encounters as I go back to study the theory (now that I am a master of the practice, of course).
Despite how normal it may be for the full-time staff in the Department, it really was a privilege getting to work in the beautiful surrounds of Government Buildings. Even greater than that, though, and my own personal highlight, was the experience that I had working with the many friends that I have made from my time in DPER.