Creggan needs time, space and community unity to heal

HOPE. Children from Creggan on parade in their Irish dancing costumes during the Creggan Festival.
HOPE. Children from Creggan on parade in their Irish dancing costumes during the Creggan Festival.

Over the past few weeks, I have been contacted by a number of prominent journalists who told me they wanted to write ‘good news’ stories about Creggan.

They wanted me to talk about the positives, such as the Factory Wall on Eastway, which features 24 colourful forward-thinking mural panels right at the entrance to Creggan; the beautiful Ráth Mór market garden, where Locky Morris’s giant sculpture commemorating our industrial heritage, stands and Maurice Harron’s iconic statuettes of dancing children outside St. Mary’s Chapel. One of them said they would call last Tuesday and pressed me to accompany their crew on a tour.

Maurice Harron's iconic dancing children sculpture at the top of Eastway.

Maurice Harron's iconic dancing children sculpture at the top of Eastway.

HESITANT RESPONSE

I confess, I was hesitant, as I have been saying for years that the positives in Creggan – and, in particular, its indomitable sense of community – far, far outweigh the negatives.

But the media, for the most part, have no interest in anything except conflict here.

The very night before the crew were due to visit, ‘Spotlight’ aired its investigation into dissident republicanism in Derry.

And Creggan was portrayed in one light, and one light only – that of a battleground.

Graffiti, flags and placards, which have long since been removed, were shown in abundance – leaving viewers the impression that this quiet, settled village on a hill was nothing but a gangster-ridden wasteland.

My journalist friend never showed up the following day.

I have little doubt that repeated negative profiling of Creggan in the media helped set the backdrop for last weekend events, which saw disaffected young people, from outside the area, disrupting the funeral of a vulnerable local teenager.

If you keep setting the scene for conflict and predicting conflict,and you look hard enough for conflict, you are going to find it.

You can do sizeable reputational damage to any neighbourhood if all you show is darkened images of angry faces, discordant soundtracks and camera-cuts to gable walls.

But this is not Creggan. It is not representative of any Creggan I know or have known in my entire life living and working here.

It is a false representation of an extraordinarily successful and united place.

It is time to stop mass-blaming and shaming a community of 15,000 people for the political failures, lack of governance and the actions of an alienated groups still welded to the politics of violence.

The people of Creggan were, to a person, appalled and outraged by the death of Lyra McKee in April.

They viewed it as a shame on their community and they are still living under the shadow of that deep shame.

But the community here do not deserve that shame. They did not, at any level sanction, support, vote for or otherwise condone, the events that led to Ms McKee’s death.

They immediately stood up and stated their abject abhorrence at what happened.

But they are living with it every day because they are being told repeatedly it was their fault. Wrongly told, I must add. We have also been shocked, traumatised and left grief-stricken at what has happened in our streets.

RE-UNITING A COMMUNITY

Over the past 70 years, the people of Creggan have built a community it can be really proud of, a community that has contributed so much to Derry, Ireland and the world.

This is a community that has fostered world-renowned artists, musicians, writers, academics film-makers, scientists and educators, business leaders and digital entrepreneurs, sportsmen and women, and, of course, politicians and peacemakers.

It has also bred generations of brilliant and determined mothers and fathers, who have created such positive lives for their families under very difficult circumstances, which they did not create.

This is a community that has always been proud of itself and its place – and has had reason to be. And it will be again, and it must be again.

COOL HEADS, CALM LEADERSHIP

Not long ago, I wrote an article stating there was a need for cool heads and calm leadership in Creggan.

Today, I am repeating that message, but I am also impressing the urgency of re-uniting our community and providing new hope for our younger generations.

To achieve this best, I believe we need:

1. Respectful and inclusive leadership.

2. Inclusive team working involving all our representatives in the public, community and statutory sectors that serve Creggan. This could be serviced by a non-party, inclusive forum, led by our area’s five Council representatives, which would develop practices and protocols on an ongoing basis to address future challenges facing the community.

3. Urgent strategic investment into initiatives that will have a sustainable, positive impact on the community in areas such as (but not limited to): youth development; sport; education and culture; social enterprise and employment schemes; and our health sector.

4. Sensitive and respectful policing.

5. Responsible, respectful and inclusive media reportage, that allows our community time and space to restore its positive, forward-looking mission and to heal.

6. Responsible use of social media by all community leaders, public representatives, church figures and activists.

Creggan Enterprises is willing, as always, to make available Ráth Mór as a long-established neutral, community-owned space, to facilitate inclusive dialogue and community rebuilding.

HAPPIER TIMES . . . Children from Creggan on parade in their Irish dancing costumes during the Creggan Festival and, inset, respected Creggan community activist, Conal McFeely.

NEWS/opinion piece