Alert - New wave of evictions threatens Gypsies
- New wave of evictions threatens Gypsies
Families forced off their land and into illegal
plots as Eric Pickles drafts tougher trespass powers for police
The Observer, Sunday 1 August 2010
Granddaughters of Irish Traveller Mary Ann
McCarthy two of the 50 children facing
eviction, with their families, from Dale Farm,
near Basildon. Photograph: Susan Craig-Greene
Human rights campaigners have condemned a wave of
evictions and court actions against Gypsies and
Irish Travellers which they say are threatening
to extinguish a whole way of life.
Dozens of families face the prospect of being
pushed off plots of land they own and forced to
move back into illegal "side-of-the road" and
wasteland camping. Children will be unable to go
to school and the elderly and infirm unable to
access health services, say the campaigners.
Eric Pickles, the communities and local
government minister, is drafting new laws to
allow police more powers to evict and arrest
people for trespass on public land. Planning laws
are also being changed to stop applications for
retrospective permission to put caravans on private land.
Pickles has already announced the reversal of
previous efforts to provide "pitches" within all
local authorities, abolishing the regional
planning bodies which were to oversee provision
of registered sites for travellers and ease the
tensions caused by Gypsies being forced to camp illegally.
The grants that had been made available to
councils to provide sites have also been slashed,
although an estimated £18m a year is being spent on evictions.
"Gypsies are being squeezed on all sides in this
wave of intolerance and racism which is unlike
anything I've ever seen before," said Gratton
Puxon, 69, a founder member of the Gypsy Council.
There are around 18,000 Gypsy and Traveller
caravans in England, with 80% of them on
authorised sites, land they own or rent. The
numbers on illegal sites is so small, according
to the government's own reports, that they could
all be accommodated on one square mile.
The clampdown comes against a background of
rising attacks against Roma people in Europe
which has led to a demand for the EU to tackle
what some are calling an attempted "ethnic
cleansing" of travelling people. France has
intensified its crackdown on Gypsies, announcing
that 300 sites would be closed down in the next
three months and any Gypsies found breaking the
law would be deported. In 2008 the Italian
government declared its Roma population was a
national security risk, while in 2009 more than
100 Romanian Gypsies were attacked with bricks
and bottles in Ireland and driven from their homes.
In Essex, where the statutory requirement for the
provision of sites to accommodate 104 travelling
people has now gone with the abolition of the
regional planning assemblies, Basildon council
issued an eviction notice last week on eight
families living on their own land at one site. It
is also embroiled in a court battle to evict a
further 70 families from a site at Dale Farm, on
the outskirts of the town. At the former
scrapyard, bought by Irish Travellers 10 years
ago and slowly transformed into a caravan park,
families have been buying tents in preparation
for their eviction. The camp's 50 or so children
have no idea whether they will return to their
primary school after the summer holidays.
"There is a very real sense of fear and people
are very worried, especially the old people.
There's people here ill and infirm who can't be
going back on the road and there's nowhere to
go," said Margaret McCarthy, 45, a mother of two
who, like many others on the site, has vowed to
fight the eviction, planning blockades and
protests. "They're trying to destroy our pride
and our dignity. The British government is trying
to do away with Gypsies. It's scandalous, but
nobody is watching, so nobody will help."
"It's seen as the last bastion of racism. It's
not socially acceptable to express racism against
ethnic minorities, but against Gypsies and
travellers it's fine," said Emma Nuttall of the
support group Friends, Families and Travellers.
"We are getting more and more calls from families
who are in a panic about where they can and can't
go, desperately trying to find bits of land they
can buy and get planning permission for before
the laws change, just so their kids can go to school."
Hostility from local communities is high. The
Equality and Human Rights Commission Scotland is
so concerned at the way many local newspapers are
presenting issues with Gypsies, and the racist
remarks left on their noticeboards, that it is
contacting media outlets "to remind them that
moderation of online comment boards is crucial in
order to prevent the incitement of racial hatred".
At Dale Farm, Mary Ann McCarthy, 69, insists on
an inspection of her immaculate static caravan
and says the stereotype of "dirty gypsies" is not true.
"Travellers are very house proud; you always get
a few people who leave a mess but so does any
community." Born in a horse-drawn caravan, she is
wistful of the days when her family would be
welcomed by farmers who relied on Travellers to
pick seasonal fruit and at the fairs where their horses were prized.
"We have never been treated really well, but it's
never been as bad as now." Additional reporting by Oliver Morrison
+44 (0)7786 952037
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On Sunday 01 August 2010 20:39:40 Tony wrote:
> New wave of evictions threatens Gypsies
> Families forced off their land and into illegal
> plots as Eric Pickles drafts tougher trespass powers for police
This measure was promised long before the election. Although the changes
officially target 'gypsies', the anti-trespass powers for police will also be
very effective against protest camps on land where the landowners does not give
permission (DoT, power companies, etc.).
This is also very problematic for anyone wishing to live on their own land
without planning permission, not just travellers. In cases where planning
permission won't be easily won from the local dead-head planning committees,
but where the Planning Inspectorate might be persuaded to give permission on
appeal, this measure is really restrictive. Certainly it's a major headache
for people trying to live on their land in a caravan or other temporary
structure in order to establish their right to be there before they go on to
create a proper eco-development.
"We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government,
nor are we for this party nor against the other but we are
for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom,
that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness,
righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with
God, and with one another, that these things may abound."
(Edward Burrough, 1659 - from 'Quaker Faith and Practice')
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