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27/09/2021

OPINION: Why should the people of Galliagh not have access to the very best?

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The independent councillor WARREN ROBINSON says it's time to break the cycle of poverty, contempt and disconnect that has stifled Galliagh for generations. All too often when Galliagh appears in our headlines, it is often related to negative news, whether it is drugs, burglaries, car theft, buses being attacked, bonfires or pensioners being intimidated etc. But, as with any story, the headline is never the whole picture. Galliagh is a working-class community with a distinct identity. People who have grown up in Galliagh are generally proud of their area and despair at the negative headlines. I grew up in Galliagh, I know the issues and I know the people, I am acutely aware of the need for investment and for facilities. Rightly or wrongly there is a very strong feeling in Galliagh that the area has been neglected and has not received a fair allocation of resources. Government statistics show unsurprisingly that Galliagh has lower life expectancy, higher unemployment rates, higher child poverty, poorer diet, higher drug and alcohol use and higher crime rates than most wards across the North. In almost every indicator of poverty and deprivation, Galliagh sits at the wrong end of the table. This neglect, perceived or real, has actually been measured. There are statistics to back up what many in our community believe. For example the proportion of the population of Shantallow West 2 (part of Galliagh) living in households whose equivalised income is below 60% of the north of Ireland median is 21.6% and is ranked 16th out of 890 wards across the north. Again the proportion of the population who are employment-deprived in Shantallow West 1 is 51.3% and this is ranked 7th out of 890 wards. Depending on where you draw the boundaries the population of Galliagh is anywhere between 6,000 and 12,000. But even the lowest figure of 6,000 is comparable to the town of Buncrana. The 2016 census in the South measured Buncrana's population at 6785. It has all the amenities you would expect to find for a population of its size. Buncrana has hotels, factories, restaurants, as well as commercial and industrial areas. Galliagh has none of these. Galliagh is a sprawling housing estate largely built around forty years ago. The planners back then obviously saw the need for housing and this was delivered to some extent. But it’s well understood now that simply building houses does not solve the issues surrounding deprivation. I represent the Ballyarnett District Electoral Area. This area covers most of the area north of the Buncrana Road out to the border with Donegal and includes Culmore, Shantallow, Carnhill and Galliagh. Even within this DEA there is massive disparity and this is borne out by recently released deprivation figures. I have picked two small areas to compare and contrast. Admittedly, I have chosen two areas on the extreme ends of the figures, one in Galliagh and one in Culmore, but they shine a light on the economic inequality that exists within a small geographical area within our city. Culmore faces its own difficulties in terms of access to services and a lack of community infrastructure, so I’m certainly not saying everything is perfect here either. But in terms of these measures, I have looked at the statistics for these two small areas and the results could not be more stark. These areas are ranked 1 to 4537 of areas across the North with 1 being most deprived and 4537 being the least deprived. Under the heading of “income” the area in Culmore is ranked 4342nd whilst Galliagh is ranked 59th most deprived. “Employment” in Culmore is ranked 4315th, in Galliagh this is 66th. Regarding “Health and Disability” Culmore is 4004th, Galliagh is 100th, and in terms of “Crime and Disorder” Culmore is 4329th, Galliagh is 290th. These figures tell me that inequality is real and the results of decades of neglect, are very real indeed for families in Galliagh. Another stark example of the neglect is the fact that Galliagh - despite its large population and the many problems it faces and, amazingly, over forty years after the estate was built - still does not have a dedicated community centre. The local community organisations that do exist in the area are spread over a wide area based mainly in Housing Executive premises. Work is progressing in terms of providing this badly-needed amenity though, and a purpose-built centre has a few more hurdles to clear, but I would hope to see work beginning before the end of this year. A community centre will not solve the problems being faced by the residents, but it will provide a focal point for the community. It will be a place for residents to come together to develop solutions to the issues that plague the estate and I believe it could be a real catalyst for change within Galliagh. There are also early plans to develop the Linear Park and make it more attractive for the residents and this will include walkways, play facilities, allotments and community space. The extent of deprivation is one of the major contributors the higher levels of antisocial behaviour in Galliagh. The problems are inter generational and young people feel disconnected. They are growing up in families in which their mothers or fathers never had access to opportunities and neither had their parents before them. It has been shown that deprivation and poverty come down through the generations. This leads to a lack of hope and a lack of belonging as well as poor educational attainment, and in these circumstances it’s very easy for some young people to treat wider society the way they perceive themselves being treated. This is not to excuse bad behaviour, I am simply explaining why some of it occurs. Again going back to the stats, in more affluent areas of our district, the levels of antisocial behaviour experienced in Galliagh simply do not exist. Poverty breeds contempt and contempt leads to disconnect. This cycle needs to be broken if Galliagh and areas like it are to escape these issues. Government and statutory agencies need to step in and put targeted programs in place. Families need to be given hope. There is great potential here. The people of Galliagh simply want what everyone else has. They want the best education for their kids, they want the best community infrastructure, they want the best-paying jobs and they want their children to have the very best prospects. Why should the people of Galliagh not have access to the very best? They deserve it as much as anyone else therefore I’ll conclude with the very apt words of James Connolly, “Our demands are quite modest, we only want the Earth!”

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