Eamonn McCann - THERE IS A SOLUTION!

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The Westland area is the latest focus for concern about young people gathering in numbers at night. Residents of the area who, for example, have had a window broken or heard a smash in the back yard and gone out to find a vodka bottle tossed over the wall will not dismiss the concerns lightly.

But there are other aspects of the matter which cause concern, too. The suggestion by a councillor of assemblies 200-strong was a significant exaggeration and generally unhelpful.

It’s not true, either, that all or most of those involved come from outside the area. Many are locals who readily explain that they congregate at corners because they have nowhere else to go. Meanwhile, just down the road, St. Eugene’s parish hall continues to lie derelict.

The idea of a petition and campaign to make the Hall available to the community in general and to young people in particular is as constructive an initiative as has so far been put forward. And the parish Hall is not the only suitable facility within reach.

The Hall may belong to the church as far as the legal niceties are concerned. But morally it belongs to the people. Then word on the street is that a plan by the credit union to buy the site, tumble the Hall and use it as car-park before turning it over for development, and a separate, similar proposal from a local entrepreneur, have both been abandoned: the property crash has changed all calculations.

The time is right to give the Hall back to the community and to see it as part of a solution to the problems arising from night-time assemblies.

It would represent, too, a constructive alternative to ominous threats of paramilitary intervention.

Drive a night-time crowd away and you’ll likely just drive them to somebody else’s street corner. The vast majority are not hooligans, and don’t want associated with hooligan behaviour - although it would be useful if they accepted from neighbours who go and talk to them that some older folk or parents with young children experience high-decibel hullabaloo as, at the least, highly disruptive. (Mind you, most of us can remember occasionally being chased for noisiness at night - although I cannot remember us chucking bottles over walls on the back lane. We wouldn’t have ever seen a vodka bottle anyway. Some things change, some stay the same.)

The problem isn’t easy to deal with. Most of those on the receiving end of the raucous - and sometimes worse - behaviour want a quick solution. If there were a quick solution, I’d go for it too.

Maybe opening the Hall at night with youth workers in attendance would make no difference. The only way to find out is to try.

And if the Hall were reopened, there would be no reason not to use it again for other relevant purposes - amateur boxing, for example, which Aaron Rogan and others have been pressing for for years.

Read more from Eamonn McCann in the Derry Journal every Tuesday