Derry City and Strabane District Council have agreed to work with the PSNI, other agencies, and youth and community workers, to address anti-social behaviour in local parks.
The move came amid claims of sectarianism, under-age drinking, drug abuse and sexual assaults during recent spells of good weather in various green spaces across the district.
At the local authority’s monthly council meeting on Thursday, SDLP Councillor, Tina Gardiner, raised the matter by tabling a motion, that noted a recent “rise in anti-social behaviour around the council’s parks” and suggested engagement through youth workers as a way of tackling the issue.
“Unfortunately, with the good weather seems to come the phenomenon of young people gathering around St. Columb’s Park, but I know it’s an issue across the council area. They are drinking from a very young age, 12 and 13 year olds. I am concerned and I think that it’s something this council should be taking a lead role on.”
She said she believed the levels of underage binge-drinking throughout the city pointed to a potential epidemic of alcohol related health problems in the future.
“It brings all sorts of problems. There’s a huge spike in the 20 to 30 year old age population in Ireland and the UK that have cirrhosis of the liver and heart diseases and it’s brought on by binge drinking at a young age
“There’s also very definite findings around brain development and frontal lobe development that’s interfering with teenagers and younger adults, their reasoning and their decision making, the choices that they’re making. It’s something that we all have a responsibility to be addressing.”
Colr. Gardiner said young people were also habitually leaving themselves in vulnerable conditions due to the excessive use of alcohol in the uncontrolled environment of public parks.
“They are vulnerable to a range of consequences,” she said, referring to reports of alleged sexual assaults earlier in the year.
She added: “This time it’s been in the media about young teenagers involved in sexual activity in the play area of St. Columb’s Park.”
DUP Alderman for the Waterside David Ramsey acknowledged the issues raised by Colr. Gardiner but suggested there was also a sectarian element to recent incidents in St. Columb’s Park and Ebrington.
“There are sectarian assaults as well. A lot of the parents aren’t really highlighting it. They are telling their kids not to go back to the park, so, as the weeks progress with the good weather, less and less young people from the Waterside are going back to the park.”
He continued: “There are sectarian mobs entering Bond’s Street and Clooney.
“Now this happened last year and there have been many meetings since and over the past three months the PSNI strategy worked because there was little or no evidence of any sectarianism.”
But Ald. Ramsey claimed that on Thursday, July 13, a man from Nelson Drive was set upon and robbed by a gang of three who afterwards fled to the cityside on foot over the Peace Bridge. And last week there were further serious disturbances.
Ald. Ramsey claimed that on Tuesday, July 18, two to three hundred people descended on the park and up to 60 “went into Bond’s Street and battered rings around them”.
“There were six young fellahs got punched, on one fella they used beer bottles, another fellah lost his teeth, suffered serious head injuries, another one was hospitalised as well and left on crutches.”
He claimed that, as a Protestant who grew up in Galliagh, he once feared travelling through the city centre in his school uniform. He didn’t want a return to the “bad old days” of a more polarised city, he said.
Sinn Féin Councillor Christopher Jackson said: I would like to remind Alderman Ramsey that as a young person growing up inthe Waterside there wer council facilities that I wasn’t able to make use of due to sectarian attacks.”
He said there “should be no ‘no go’ areas in the city”.