‘Derry Girls’ star Siobhán McSweeney criticises English education on Northern Ireland

“A sitcom is teaching this country about the history of Northern Ireland and that’s not how it should be”

Derry Girls actor Siobhán McSweeney has criticised the lack of education in English schools about Northern Ireland.

The Channel 4 sitcom concluded its third and final season on Wednesday (May 18) with a 45-minute special where the characters voted on the 1998 Good Friday Agreement to bring an end to decades of violence.

The subject has added relevance following Brexit and the Northern Ireland Protocol implemented in 2019, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said needs to be “fixed” following political instability.

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Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, McSweeney, who plays Sister Michael, said it was an “absolute disgrace” that many English viewers had said they learned more from watching Derry Girls than in school about the issues in Northern Ireland.

“I’ve woken up this morning to, no word of a lie, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of messages, and at least three quarters of them are ‘Derry Girls has taught me more about the history of Northern Ireland and Britain than anything that I have been taught in school’,” McSweeney said.

“I think if you put aside the absolute disgrace it is that there’s such a gap in the educational system here that they have to look to a comedy to find out about Northern Irish politics that still have an effect today, I think it shows how good the medium of comedy can be to spread a message.”

Addressing the show’s relevance in light of the threat to the Good Friday Agreement today from Brexit, McSweeney added: “The timing could not be more apt. I’m going to be very inarticulate about this because I feel quite emotional about what was meant to be the ending of a sitcom and is instead, what it shows is how the past is not the past, it’s always with us.”

“The Good Friday Agreement was hard won and hard fought for, and the people of Northern Ireland voted for it, and now it’s in danger of being attacked through ignorance.

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“Yet again it goes back to the idea that a sitcom is teaching the people of this country about the history of Northern Ireland and that’s not how it should be.”

She added: “I feel it is incredibly poignant that we watch [the Derry Girls characters] head off at the end full of tentative hope for peace, for reconciliation, for the young people and what their future is, and we cut to now and that’s in danger and it breaks my heart.”

The Derry Girls finale featured cameos from Chelsea Clinton and Liam Neeson, after the latter made an appearance in the first episode of season three.

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