Successful Northern Irish people in Britain have an opportunity to help young people there escape institutionalised sectarianism, TV actor Adrian Dunbar said this week
Mr Dunbar, who has been seen in hit TV dramas Line of Duty and Broken in recent months, was one of sixty guests from business, arts, media, politics and alumni of integrated schools at the Kensington home of businessman David Montgomery.
Mr Montgomery, and his wife Sophie, hosted the event in aid of Northern Ireland’s Integrated Education Fund. The much-loved late comedian Frank Carson was for many years a high profile supporter of the IEF.
The IEF, established in Northern Ireland in 1992, has established 65 formally integrated schools in Northern Ireland, attended by more than 23,000 children.
Mr Dunbar said the assembled guests were all motivated by a common wish to ‘put something back into the society they grew up in’ to repair the damage caused by segregated schooling there.
“I always wondered how come we spend millions and millions of pounds separating children at the age of five to then spend millions trying to tell them that they were the same at the age of 16,” he said.
“There are thousands of organisations that are funded to try to bring children together when actually all that money could be going into an integrated education system.
“If we want to heal society in Northern Ireland then integrated education would be the norm, sadly it’s not.
There’s huge resistance to it from various parties and the people who are advocating a twostrand education system have a vested interest in the state of NI being split,” he added.
Host David Montgomery, a media entrepreneur and newspaper publisher, said the attendance reminded him of his own religious-blind childhood in Bangor.
“We had several Catholic children in our street in Bangor and indeed we played happily with them until the age of five.
At that point two sets of children went our separate ways – turning out of our front doors in different directions to separate schools and destined to lose touch with each other as it turned out for ever.
“All the friends I have among Northern Ireland expats, Catholics and Protestants, say the same thing.
We look back and feel deprived because we were robbed of the fellowship of the other half of our community.
Of course things have changed – but not enough. “(Northern Ireland’s) political process has stagnated if there is no recognition of the most effective collective act of reconciliation – integrated education.
“The public get it: seventyseven per cent of people believe de-segregated schooling will contribute both to cross-community relationships and economic growth.
Cross community relationships
“The business community gets it: 77 per cent feel that a de-segregated education system could contribute to a strengthening of cross community relationships in the workplace and impact positively on economic growth.
“Making available integrated education will create the greatest legacy for peace embedding in the next generation the means for Northern Ireland to reach its true potential,” said Mr. Montgomery.
Former Northern Ireland trades unionist Baroness (May) Blood, the IEF’s Campaign Chair, said all of those present were “interested in contributing to a shared future and better place and they feel strongly that if they had the opportunity to go to school with people from different backgrounds that would’ve have a positive impact on them and Northern Ireland.”
Other guests included actor Stephen Hagan and his wife, comedienne Wendy Wason, NI punk rock band Stiff Little Fingers’ Ali McMordie, BBC broadcaster Maxine Mawhinney, and BAFTA Deputy Chair Anne Morrison.