Derry MLA Karen Mullan: More than a place - Creggan community deserves better

Just over a week ago, I attended the Old Library Trust Annual General Meeting via zoom.

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 5:12 pm
The street names of Creggan held up by fundraising residents at a Fun Fair in Creggan in December 1955.

I was struck by the breadth and depth of work that is taking place in the most difficult of circumstances to enhance and improve the lives of Creggan residents. It was an inspiring experience.

Nor is it unique. The work of the Old Library Trust, like the work of the Corn Beef Tin, St Mary’s Youth Club, Creggan Pre-School and Training Trust (CPTT), Creggan Country Park, Surestart, Féile, Creggan Enterprise Limited, Trojans, Seán Dolan’s and all of the other local community and voluntary organisations across Creggan over the past year has been incredible.

The next day, at a meeting with Justice Minister Naomi Long, we discussed the shocking statistic that there have been 32 shootings in Derry since 2016 with over 20 of these occurring in Creggan.

The contrast was stark and it threw into sharp focus the Creggan most of us know and love, the Creggan that cherishes all its residents and is ambitious for the future, and another Creggan that a small minority of people want to create.

Knee capping by appointment is not the Creggan its residents deserve. For a community that is known worldwide for its unflinching strength in the face of relentless hardship, it is my view that the Creggan I admire, the real Creggan, is to be found in the work of its residents trying to make it an even better place.

An example of this is the rebirth of Sean Dolans GAC. It is only ten years since an arson attack destroyed the clubhouse and nearly destroyed the club itself.

A small number of active Creggan Gaels has literally brought Dolan’s back from the ashes to become one of the most thriving and ambitious GAA clubs in Derry.

The origins of the Creggan estate are to be found in the efforts of the unionist controlled Corporation to continue its unjust and anti-democratic gerrymandering of Derry City in the 1950s and 1960s.

Whilst the unionist plan ultimately failed, it did, entirely unintended, help forge one of the strongest, most resilient and best-known communities on the island of Ireland.

Throughout, Creggan has known suffering and hardship, yet it was never broken. Bloody Sunday, Operation Motorman, the long years of the long war. Creggan bore more than its fair share of suffering. Yet it always re-emerged, stronger, more resilient, and even more supportive of its own.

Political conflict and economic hardship, whilst being large parts of Creggan’s experience, is not the defining characteristic of the Creggan story.

To the people of Creggan, and to the thousands of Derry people who owe their origins to Creggan, it is known as a place where neighbours look after neighbours, where help is always available and where assistance is only a phone call or a door knock away.

Creggan isn’t perfect. Like all working-class communities across this island it has problems and it faces challenges.

But the people of Creggan deserve more than what they are currently forced to endure.

The people of Creggan deserve, and are entitled to:

• Live in a safe environment where the police respond to their concerns and fears, not one where the residents are viewed as a hostile community that is to be policed, not served.

The concerning events of the last week have again undermined the importance of this.

• Wake up in the morning not having to wonder who has been shot on their streets.

• Not having to go to bed at night, worried that a paramilitary feud is about to break out in the area.

Creggan, and the people of Creggan, deserve, and are entitled to, the opportunity to take their place in forging a better Derry, and a better Ireland, for their families and their children. We all need to help create the space for them to do that.

Following a number of meetings with residents, community representatives, statutory agencies and ministers, I am calling now for all stakeholders to work together for the development of a long term strategic plan to ensure that the residents and in particular our young people in Creggan grow up in the safe, welcoming and healthy environment that they deserve.