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General view of scene after remains were placed in ambulance. Scene of shooting on St. Ronan's Drive, Ronanstown, Clondalkin, Co Dublin, December 22 2016 Caroline Quinn/PA

Dehumanising west Dublin communities 'It is lazy journalism to label an area 'gangland''

After the recent spate of murders in Clondalkin, Mark Ward hits back at the use of term “gangland”.

LANGUAGE AND OUR use of language is one of the most powerful tools we have as human beings. How we use language has the ability to alter perceptions of events, people and areas.

The 7th century Clondalkin Round Tower stands imperiously overlooking the sprawling suburb of Clondalkin. And Clondalkin is an area of huge historical and cultural significance.

A thriving and diverse business community

The Irish language is rooted in Clondalkin culture and there is momentum behind an ongoing campaign that Clondalkin could become the first area in Dublin to be a designated Gaeltacht area.

The pride that Clondalkin people have in their area is most noticeable in our wonderful, dedicated and award-winning Tidy Towns organisations, whose only goal is to make Clondalkin a better place for all of us. Our most recent addition to the area is the beautiful 1916 garden.

Clondalkin has also produced an array of sports stars over the years. The most recent are Olympic medallist Kenny Egan, boxer Bernard Dunne, 75-time capped Irish footballer Glen Whelan and current Dublin All Ireland winning manager, Jim Gavin.

Language damages public perception

There are many more positive attributes than I have mentioned, but language has the ability to wipe all that away and change what our perceptions of Clondalkin are.

Recent events, as well as political and media commentary, have altered the perception of Clondalkin. I’m talking about the use of the word “gangland”.

As I have already stated, Clondalkin is a growing, sprawling suburb, and like all other areas of Dublin, it is not without its social and economic problems. However labelling an area as “gangland” is detrimental.

Glamourising crime

The word “gangland” conjures up images from the television programme “Love Hate” and glamourises serious crime.

Years of austerity measures by successive Governments have failed parts of Clondalkin. Like it or not, we are living in a materialistic era. When young kids look around their neighbourhood and see that the only visible people with big cars and fancy lifestyles are the local drug dealers, this way of life is going to be attractive to them. Using the term “gangland” puts a designer label on this lifestyle.

Four murders in three months within a seven-mile radius have left the communities of Clondalkin and Lucan in trauma. Using the word “gangland” mitigates the Government’s responsibility in dealing with these crimes.

Dehumanising victims

Any term that demeans the victim, the area, or reduces humanity to something lesser, creates an acceptance of murder and covers up the ineptitude of successive Government policies and the failure to secure the goodwill and trust of people.

Every time we hear that another person has been shot dead, we wait for this phrase to rear its head: “He was known to the Gardaí.” This also dehumanises the victim, while asserting the influence of the Gardaí’s opinion. It gives the impression that somehow the victim deserved it, and that he or she was a bad person.

I am not saying that there are not organised crime gangs. What I want to emphasise is that just because a gang crime is carried out in an area does not mean that area should be dismissed as “gangland”. It somehow suggests that these areas are controlled by gangs. I walk around Clondalkin every day and I can say emphatically that this is not the case.

Changing perceptions

The politicians and the media have a role to play in changing how serious crime is reported. It is lazy journalism to label an area “gangland”.

In the 1980s and 1990s the word “junkie” was used to describe people with substance misuse issues. This categorised a generation of addicts as “junk” or “less than”, without looking at the underlying causes and conditions that led these people into addiction.

Thankfully this term is not widely used by mainstream media now and that is the shift we need in order to stop areas like Clondalkin being dismissed as “gangland”.

Mark Ward is a Sinn Féin councillor for the Clondalkin LEA since March 2016. Originally from Harelawn in north Clondalkin, Mark has worked for years in frontline addiction services. 

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