Tim McGarry stands up for integrated education ahead of Ulster Hall comedy gig
Later this month actor and comedian Tim McGarry will take part in a comedy night in support of the Integrated Education Fund. The Give My Head Peace star tells Kelly McAllister why he supports the cause and why, despite it being 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement, he feels the north hasn't really moved on
BELFAST comedian and actor Tim McGarry claims that although he received a "very good Catholic education" when he was younger, he found that there were two things missing during his schoolboy days: girls and Protestants.
An advocate for integrated education, the Blame Game host will be performing at a comedy night in Belfast's Ulster Hall later this month in support of the Integrated Education Fund (IEF).
Joining him on the night will be fellow comedians and Blame Game panellists Colin Murphy and Neil Delamere, as well as South Africa-born actress and comedian Wendy Wason (Sherlock, The IT Crowd) and mentalist David Meade.
Northern Ireland's first integrated school, Lagan College, opened in 1981 with just 28 pupils being taught in a hut on the outskirts of Belfast, initially with no government funding. Today Lagan has more than 1,200 pupils.
Since the launch of its first 10-year development plan in 1998, the IEF has seen the number of integrated schools grow from 45 to 65.
McGarry says that the idea to organise a comedy night for integrated education came about after he performed a few minor gigs in aid of the charity.
“It was a couple of years ago that the Integrated Education Fund asked me to help them organise a gig and I was happy to,” he said. “I was lucky to find nice people like Colm Murphy who came along and joined in. Integrated education has some very prominent supporters, like Liam Neeson and Carl Frampton. I thought if we can get a few more comedians on board we can raise a few bob and raise the profile of the cause and that’s how it came about.”
Despite this year’s comedy night for the IEF only being his second, the comedian says he has been a supporter for a few years now his main reason being that he is "getting old".
"I look at Northern Ireland and I see where we are now and we are still a very divided society," he says. "We have a political stalemate; most people still live in either Catholic or Protestant areas and still go to separate schools.
“It seems ridiculous. This society will never move forward until more people are educated together. We take kids at four years old and we separate and divide them. It's just madness."
The Give My Head Peace actor says that before he began further education, he didn’t know anyone from the Protestant community.
“I was lucky enough to go to university. If I didn’t go I wouldn’t have met any Protestants. All my friends were Catholics; we went to the same places,” he said.
He says that despite people in the north now living in a post-peace-process society, the communities are still very much divided.
“We don’t shoot each other anymore, but we still don’t like each other and the reason we don’t like each other is because we don’t know each other and we don’t understand each other’s perspectives.
“Twenty years after Good Friday Agreement, you know, for us to have disputes over flags and languages and stuff like that is just crazy.
“I do tell the joke that it technically would put me out of business if people got on together but it is crazy that I am still telling similar jokes that I was 25 years ago. We need to move on.”
Another issue, McGarry suggests, is the lack of support from the Northern Ireland government.
“The government is meant to promote integrated education and they haven’t. I know we don’t have a government at the minute, but even when we did they didn’t actively support integrated education. They are supposed to under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.”
The integrated education sector is in need of a "push", says the comedian, but he adds that once people get started, the idea does "take fire".
“They do rely on money and these schools, sometimes they start very small and they need a bit of a leg up. The IEF are there to help them to make sure they get well established," he says.
“Once you get an integrated school started people want to go to it and that’s what we want. We want to make integrated schools as big as we can.”
Even if integrated education isn't high on your priority list, McGarry urges people to go along.
“It’s going to be a really good night of comedy with good variety and really good craic. I’m delighted to be back in the Ulster Hall, which is a brilliant venue," he says. “We won’t be preaching at people either. It’s a good cause and I support the cause. But even if you don’t support the cause, come and see the show anyway."
:: Comedy night – Stand up for Integrated Education, Ulster Hall, Belfast, September 27; tickets £20 from ulsterhall.co.uk or the Ulster Hall Box Office, telephone (028) 9033 4455.