When Enda Kenny was elected Taoiseach newly appointed TD (member of parliament) Noel Rock, among the youngest members of the Fine Gael party, had the historic honor of nominating him for the position.
Rock, who was just elected to the Dail (Parliament) in the recent Irish general election as the Fine Gael TD for Dublin North West, is not only the youngest member of the Dail at age 28 but also a protégée of Hillary Clinton who is now running to become the Democratic Party's Presidential candidate.
Rock attributes his intense interest in politics to his two-month internship in Clinton's US Senate office in 2006. According to Rock "Interning with Hillary set me down the path of politics. Up until then, I thought I wanted to be a journalist. I have a great interest in people and their stories. But when I got into her office I discovered that this interest was far more suited to politics which, at its heart, is about people and their stories.
“They give you their trust and faith, tell you their problems - which are often very private matters - and hope that you can help them when the system has failed them."
In the 1990s Hillary Clinton was intensely committed to supporting Bill Clinton efforts to sustain the Peace Process in Northern Ireland and went out of her way to support various cross-border peace initiatives including the Washington Ireland Program (WIP), which annually selects 30 university students from Northern Ireland and the Republic for a two-month leadership program in Washington D.C.
Clinton hosted five WIP interns in the White House while she was First Lady and when she became the US Senator from New York in 2000 she continued this practice. Over the next eight years WIP would place six Irish interns in her US Senate office including Rock.
Rock would spend two months working side-by-side with American interns in Senator Clinton's office answering phones, sorting mail and absorbing the politics of Washington D.C. in a new and different way.
"Interning with Hillary made me start to look at politics in a new way" said Rock. "I got a tremendous satisfaction from seeing that politics could solve problems in people's lives, and it's something I have carried with me since. Whether the problems are big or small, there is a tremendous satisfaction in being able to get the job done."
Rock would return to Dublin to continue his studies at University College Dublin (UCD) but came back to campaign for Hillary Clinton in 2008 when she ran for President for the first time.
"The Iowa experience was remarkable - the level of enthusiasm, citizen engagement and sheer national attention focused on it is incredible. While the result was a deep disappointment, it served to teach me a valuable political lesson: nothing drives you personally harder than defeat,” Rock said.
Rock graduated from UCD and set his sights on a political career becoming a peace commissioner for Glasnevin and Drumcondra in 2013 and before going on to becoming the youngest member of the Dublin City Council in 2014.
Rock's would be the first to say that his election as the as first Fine Gael T.D. in his constituency in 20 years is largely because of the lessons he learned in Clinton's office.
In the ten years between his internship with Senator Clinton in 2006 and his recent election as a T.D. Rock has had the opportunity to stay in touch with Clinton during her visits to Ireland including two as the US Secretary of State. Clinton always made it a point to visit with her former Irish interns including Sharon Haughey (2003) the first Lord Mayor of Armagh, Caroline McNeill (2007) a Belfast based SDLP policy advisor and Aiobhin O’Hare (2008) now a Dublin based associate tax solicitor at Arthur Cox.
WIP's ability to place Irish interns in key Congressional offices is one its unique features and made it a much sought after program for aspiring Irish leaders.
According to Rock "The Washington Ireland Program set me on that platform, and on to every platform since. I wouldn't be in politics but for the experience gained."
Bryan Patten, the Executive Director of the WIP, stated that "WIP was delighted to see Rock's elected by his local community to be their representative on the national stage. Throughout his ten-year association with WIP, Rock's passion for leading change through politics has been clear. He is a fantastic example for all of our Alumni who share his deeply held commitment to look past differences and to resolve the pressing issues that will define our island in the 21st century."
Rock is now one of five WIP alumni who have been elected as either an MLA in the Northern Ireland Assembly or a T.D.in the Dail including Leo Varadkar, TD, the current Irish Minister of Health, Chris Lyttle an Alliance Party MLA for Belfast East, Emma Pengelly a DUP MLA for Belfast South and junior minister in the Office of the First Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive and Claire Sudgen, an Independent Unionist MLA representing East Londonderry in Northern Ireland.
Whether Rock comes back to the United States to campaign for Hillary Clinton for President remains to be seen but as he noted "Ireland is always interested in US Presidential Elections. We're a very political country."