Galliagh, Derry city: portrait of a post-ceasefire area
‘There were still fears ... but people were prepared to take that risk and move forward’
Community worker Ollie Green: “There was one way in and one way out ... The estates weren’t interlinked. There was no high street. The infrastructure didn’t lend itself to a sense of community.”
“Galliagh has a population of maybe 10,000 people, but there’s no pub, no doctors, no dentist. That’s probably unique in Ireland.”
Community worker Ollie Green has lived in the Galliagh area of Derry city since the early 1990s. Like many people brought up in the older, more established areas of the Bogside and Creggan, he moved with his young family to the newer homes built on greenfield sites to the north west of the city near the Donegal border.
Its first estates were constructed in the early 1970s, “to a security agenda”, explains Green. If the British army or police entered the area, their armoured vehicles were attacked with paint, stones and petrol bombs. Many young men from the area joined the IRA.
“There was one way in and one way out,” says Green. “The estates weren’t interlinked. There was no high street. The infrastructure didn’t lend itself to a sense of community.”
By the mid-1990s, Green was among those in nationalist areas gauging reactions to a potential second IRA ceasefire.
He recalls “great hope” after the first ceasefire in 1994, but says that once it faltered, doubts began to set in.
“People saw it as a risk given our previous experience, but I think most people felt the time was right to use peaceful means to achieve political objectives. The feedback I was getting from people on the ground was that they felt things were going in the right direction.”
The question of policing was a major issue. Just prior to the 1997 ceasefire Green had been among those involved in the establishment of the area’s first community development group, in response to an increase in anti-social behaviour caused, he believes, as a result of the “vacuum” created after the first IRA ceasefire.
“The reality for a lot of nationalist communities was that there was an internal policing process enforced through methods – shootings, kneecappings, expulsions – which happened right through the Troubles,” he said.
“They worked in terms of keeping a lid on a community that was suffering from one of the highest levels of social and economic deprivation, but the respect for law and order in its statutory sense was very little.
“After 1994 you had growing levels of anti-social behaviour, and that coincided with the social process of more drugs being available.”
It is something of which Martin Connolly has first-hand experience. His 16-year-old son, also called Martin, died of solvent abuse in 1997; Connolly, a former member of the IRA and an ex-prisoner, began working to try to combat drug and alcohol addiction among young people. Today he is the co-ordinator of community restorative justice in the area and the Off The Streets youth project, as well as chairing the local Policing and Community Safety Partnership (PCSP).
“Martin played football, he was very sporty, very athletic – that was his life. He got himself caught up with solvent abuse at a time when a lot of young people were becoming involved in it.
“On the day he died he actually played two football matches, but by 6.30pm that evening he was dead.
“I have a granddaughter who was born in 1997, and Martin died in October, so we had somebody who came into life and somebody who went out.
“Politically things were starting to change because of the ceasefire, and a lot of people including myself were looking at how you move forward from a conflict situation towards normality.
“There were still fears, and nobody was sure how it would go, but people were prepared to take that risk and move forward and see how it went.
“It was totally unknown territory.”
Bereaved through addiction
Connolly found himself travelling all over Northern Ireland, talking to other people who had been bereaved through addiction. “You’re talking to people and you don’t know their backgrounds but you know they’ve lost loved ones and that was a real learning curve for me.
“It was probably something we didn’t see before, but once the conflict came to a close, all the things that had been under the surface started to come out.
“For a lot of young guys coming through the school system and out the other end, there was nothing for them, there was no role, no great chance of employment, there weren’t great opportunities, and you start looking for coping mechanisms.
“You had a lot of young guys living in flats who didn’t work and their only escape was either down the pub or sitting in the flat drinking bottles of cider, and I know a lot of young guys who all died from alcohol abuse.”
Today, Galliagh is still among the most socially deprived areas of the North. If it is in the headlines, it is often for the wrong reasons.
Connolly’s decision, more than 10 years ago, to join what was then known as the District Policing Partnership (DPP) was controversial. One of the recommendations of the 1999 Patten report into policing, the DPPs – now PCSPs – were local bodies comprising police, councillors and independent members which would liaise on community safety matters.
“Some people who were close friends stood by me,” said Connolly, “and some people who were also friends, I haven’t spoken to since.
“We meet the police and hold them to account, and sometimes you have to commend the police because of the work they’ve done, they have solved quite a lot of problems.”
SDLP councillor Brian Tierney moved to Galliagh after he got married 12 years ago. He and his wife now have four children and he says it is a great place to raise a family.
“Galliagh does get a bad press at times but it’s got a lot going for it. It has a lot of great community organisations, a lot of ambition in terms of community facilities, and lots of great community spirit. The people here have been neighbours a lifetime at this stage, and we’re very happy and settled here.”
Among those community facilities is Studio 2, a £200,000 multi-cultural arts hub which opened last December and which Green manages. This month it is packed full of hundreds of children learning everything from Bollywood and African dance to traditional Irish music as part of its summer schemes.
For Green, the benefit of facilities like Studio 2 are self-evident – yet the loss of £45,000 of funding earlier this year has left them struggling to stay open. He says it is a direct result of the lack of an Executive at Stormont.
“The letter I got was that there was no money and no one could sign off on it anyway so we’re left in limbo.”
Asked if he feels let down, Green replies instantly: “Without a shadow of a doubt. The promises and aspirations that were articulated at the time, and which were the rationale for people like myself arguing at the time in favour of trying purely peaceful means, have not materialised.
“As a kid running around the streets of the Bogside in 1969 I lived through some of the worst periods of the Troubles.
“I was there on Bloody Sunday. I saw friends and family killed, shot, jailed, and I suppose when it got to the ceasefires in the 90s my aspiration was that my children would never see that level of violence again.
“Yes, that’s gone, but we’re still sitting in 2017 in areas that are still suffering from the highest levels of social and economic deprivation.
“You would have thought that by 2017 people would have realised the dangers of allowing these social conditions to continue.
“I’m sad the lessons of history haven’t been learnt.”