From Penn Yan to Parliament

John Christensen
From left, Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan with Penn Yan native and intern Francesca Brand, who helped him in his recent election to the European Union Parliament.

It’s not every young woman of good character from Penn Yan who finds her way into the trenches of political campaigns. And as far as we can tell, only one has taken her efforts all the way to the European Parliament via Ireland. That one remarkable young woman is Francesca Brand, daughter of two very proud parents, Marianne and Allyn Brand of East Lake Road.

She attended St. Michael School in Penn Yan and is a 2011 graduate of DeSales High School.

As a senior at DePaul University in Chicago studying sociology with a focus in criminology, Brand grasped the opportunity to take a full credit internship in Ireland, serving a Member of Parliament, there called a Deputy. “I wanted a different outlook in a different governmental system,” she says.

Settling in with her homestay family, who have hosted foreign students for this specific program for over 40 years, in Dun Laoghaire just outside Dublin, Brand described the port town: “It sits alongside the Irish Sea, and is absolutely beautiful,” says Brand.

The following are excerpts from her correspondence:

“I first started off working in Parliament (Leinster House), also known as the House of Oireachtas the week of Jan. 15. This was when the Houses of the Oireachtas resumed session after the holidays. I was assigned to a Deputy based on an essay I wrote about my first impressions of Ireland, as well as an interview with the program director, Michael Mulreany. I was assigned to Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, who is an Independent in the Dail. He represents the Roscommon-South Leitrim constituency within the Republic of Ireland.

“I began my work doing administrative office work, such as filing documents, organizing the office, collecting the post, answering phones, and organizing the Deputy’s diary (calendar) for the upcoming weeks. The more I worked though, the more willing his assistant, Patrick Fitzpatrick, was to give me more challenging work. I was assigned two research projects; one on the Digital Audio Recording systems in courts and another on the collecting of evidence by the local Garda here. I was also given more constituency work, such as answering emails from constituents, submitting Parliamentary Questions from constituents to Ministers of specific committees (such as Transport, Social Protection, Justice), and getting those answers from the Ministers back to the local constituents in my Deputy’s region.

“I was amazed at how close the Deputy is to his constituents. He knows most of them by their first name, and usually has their phone number in his phone, in case there are any pressing issues that a constituent may want to get a hold of him about. The amount of social interaction and local canvassing around his constituency to make sure everything was alright amazed me. Constituency work is much more personal and much more of a focus here in Ireland.”

Often, Francesca spent her days escorting constituents around the Parliament, doing research, and especially helping Flanagan prepare for his campaign for the European Union Elections in May. “His assistant, Pat, kept me on my feet, had me scheduling meetings left and right, and always had work for me to do,” says Francesca. “The Deputy is much more laid back, but gets things done when he needs to.”

She also designed posters, wrote press releases, and managed constituent phone calls and conflicts within Flanagan’s constituency. One major focus was managing constituents’ complaints about Gardai (police) corruption, unsolved cases, and reports of Gardai harassment of families and constituents. “We submitted over 25 affidavits to the Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Enda Kenny, urging him to look further into the issues that the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, refused to address months ago,” wrote Brand at the time. “Ireland is calling for a ‘new party’ in upcoming elections, so this should be interesting for my Deputy, who is running as an Independent, neither Fianna Fail or Fine Gael, which dominated previous elections.”

Flanagan won that election, topping the polls by 20 percent as one of the top choices for the EU Parliament from Ireland. His “Euro-skeptic” position is one favored by the people since the economic crisis. “We heard rejoicing from this government on supposedly regaining our sovereignty. The truth is we are now on a road to giving it up for ever,” said Flanagan. “I believe the future of Ireland and Europe is best served without the Euro currency. The only country that it currently serves is Germany and one country is not Europe.” Brand says he isn’t exactly anti-EU since he was running for the EU. “He is more for change in structure and equality among the member states of the European Union.”

Flanagan’s successful campaign consisted of travelling all over the country to gain as many votes as he could. In County Galway, she went with Flanagan and his brother-in-law Jimmy to the countryside, the land of turf cutting and farmers, handing out leaflets, putting up posters, and meeting personally with constituents on local issues, especially future plans for the establishment of wind farms (turbines) in the area.

But it wasn’t all work in Ireland. She went to a Maroon 5 concert not long after her arrival, and attended the four-day Trad Fest, which is set in the Temple Bar district of Dublin, and celebrates traditional Irish music and culture with street performers, Celtic dancing, and loads of fun.

For spring break, she went to Rome for a week with friends from the program, touring the Catacombs, the Monastery of the Capucin Monks, the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica, and other historic landmarks. “We even took a train to Venice for the day, and got to see various Carnevale events while there. I couldn’t resist purchasing masquerade masks. It was artichoke season in Italy, so that was almost part of every meal we ate,” she wrote. Her parents and sister came to visit Dublin on her return, and she loved showing them the sights of the city and exploring the local restaurants. Later, she attended the St. Patrick’s Day festivities, the parade, and the local music events March 17.

Brand also made a trip to Deputy Flanagan’s own town, Castlerea, a very small town, about 2.5 hours by train from Dublin. “It is beautiful countryside, including plenty of bog land. I got to slip on my Wellingtons and explore the bogs with his assistant. I got to see how turf was cut, dug up, shaped into bricks, and dried out in the sun. These bricks are known as ‘peat’ or ‘briquettes’ and are used in fireplaces all over the country. My homestay mother, Eilish, even uses them in her fireplace on a daily basis. My Deputy and his family even own a bog near to the site I went to, where he and his family cut turf and make bricks all summer long during the warm season here.

“I am so fortunate to have had this opportunity,” says Brand. Flanagan’s assistant has said that they would be more than happy to write a recommendation letter for her. Now that Flanagan has been elected to take a seat in Brussels, that offer has expanded for her to return to work with them again after she has completed her degree.

Brand is considering that option, as well as future studies in international relations. A recent trip to Amsterdam was another highlight of her European experience, and has opened the door to her future wider still.