By Andy Pollak
FIRST SESSION, 25 FEBRUARY – INTRODUCTION AND PUBLIC SPEAKING
The first session of the 2017 Sanctuary in Politics course (organised by City of Sanctuary Dublin) opened at 10 am on Saturday 25 February in the Irish School of Ecumenics in Trinity College Dublin, which would be our home for the six weeks of the course. There were 32 refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants inscribed on the course from the following countries: Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, India, the Philippines, China, Somalia, Nigeria, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Malawi, South Africa, Mexico, Turkey, Romania and Poland. In Ireland they came not only from the Dublin area, but also from the refugee resettlement programme in Portlaoise and Direct Provision centres in Mosney, Co Meath and Newbridge, Co Kildare.
Over 55 people had applied for the course following circulation of a flier which promised training in public speaking and presentation skills, and in how to access the Irish media; information about how the political system works in Ireland; opportunities to meet politicians and local political representatives; learning about lobbying and campaigning; and the chance to make new friends from all over the world. It was free of charge to all participants.
After refreshments and ‘ice breaker’ exercises by Tiffy Allen, coordinator of Places of Sanctuary Ireland (the City of Sanctuary all-island ‘umbrella’ body), the opening session on speaking in public was led by Doireann Ní Bhriain, the prominent former RTE broadcaster and producer. She started with five minutes of physical ‘warm up’ exercises, and this would become the pattern for beginning the rest of the sessions (the later ‘warm ups’ were led by CoS Dublin volunteer Clodagh O’Reilly-Boyles). Doireann gave advice on clear communication, especially for those for whom English is not a first language. She also talked about the difficulties people might face in understanding the peculiarities of how the Irish use the English language. Some of those taking part then gave short oral presentations about their hopes for their futures in Ireland.
A Politics in Sanctuary What’s App group was also formed at the end of this session, which was used frequently and productively by participants, ‘companions’ (see below) and organisers for the duration of the course.