Paddy Doherty, a Traveller who found fame through the popular documentary series ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’, and who has since come to national attention as the winner of Celebrity Big Brother, today called out for supporters to come down to Dale Farm(1) before the eviction on Monday of the UKs largest discreet community of Travellers. Dale Farm is also familiar to the public as a result of the Gypsy wedding series, but more recently because of the imminent threat of mass forced eviction from the former scrapyard, due to start on Monday 19th September. This is set to devastate the Dale Farm community, destroying homes, and pulling children from their school. Paddy urged the public to come down to Dale Farm before the eviction, to act as monitors and suport the community’s resistance to the eviction. He said “I’d love as many to come down, even country people, anyone and everyone and anyone, to come and show their support. Just show up with support. It’s a terrible thing when people are being made homeless.”
Paddy spoke of the extreme prejudice experienced by Travellers in the UK, saying “When it comes to Travellers you know…Now this is a shameful thing to say, we’re not even treated like second class, never mind first class, we’re treated as nothing, honestly, and we’re human beings… we’ve got feelings.”
The impact of UK planning regulation on Traveller communities is a strong marker of the hostility and disregard experienced by Travellers. Across the UK Travellers’ planning permission applications are routinely turned down (2). Over 90% of Travellers initial applications for planning permission are refused, compared to under 20% of refusals for the population in general. This leaves a large segment of the population homeless or under threat of homelessness, destroying Traveller communities. Traveller children and families face repeated evictions, placing the population under great financial, physical and psychological strain. There is currently inadequate protection for Travellers rights and, contrary to the statements made by leader of Basildon Council Tony Ball, Travellers are very far from being treated fairly under the law ‘like everyone else’ when it comes to the application and enforcement of planning regulations.
Describing the impact of forcing Dale Farm residents off the former scrap yard they own at Dale Farm, and the efforts by successive governments to force Travellers off their own land and into council housing, Paddy commented “It’s like taking a fish out of water, it will drown straight away. The whole population will drown like that.”
Mr. Doherty’s call comes just a day after the UN Advisory Group on Forced Evictions condemned the eviction as a breach of international law. Also yesterday, speaking on behalf of the EHRC Commissioner (3) Simon Wooley said “…the question remains with so few suitable sites around the country, where do the evicted families go? Sadly, Dale Farm is a product of a national problem – the chronic under provision of Traveller sites.”
Paddy Doherty, who bucked the trend of prejudice when he was not evicted from the Big Brother house last week, said “We’re human beings, we need to stand up for our rights”. He used his recently boosted fame as a platform for addressing the human rights of Travellers imploring that “the… English and Irish and Welsh can all get together and show their support [for] the people who are getting evicted when they shouldn’t be evicted…” Commenting on the threat to education for families forcibly evicted at Dale Farm, Paddy added “this is the new wave…all the families are putting their children through school to get an education…it’s appalling how we’re getting treated.” It is likely that most of the children will have to be pulled out of their local school and forced into homelessness where they will not gain any further education, making this eviction a terrible infringement upon the basic rights of these children to safety, a home, and an education.
Mary, a mother of four at Dale Farm, said ‘It’s really good that Paddy is supporting us. We need all the support we can get right now. The Dale Farm community is a really close community and we are all devastated. The MEP [see (5)] and the UN representative [see (6)] both told us they think it’s wrong and against international human rights law that our families are being forcibly evicted from an old scrap yard, and that the council has not helped us to find another site where we can live legally. We’ve tried really hard to find other sites, but the council has never really seriously considered these [See (7)]. They just seem to want us to disappear and I don’t understand why – we’re a good community and we’re not bad people. But I’m glad we’ve got Paddy on side – he’s a good man and he knows a lot of us here.” Mary added “Maybe, with all the people that have come here from the settled community and from all over the world to support us, maybe this is the start of the Civil Rights movement for Travellers.”
Paddy said “My heart goes out to them. You know last night I went to a TV awards and all I was on about was Dale Farm, I sympathise with them, I really do.” Paddy suggested that parliament take some time to reconsider the situation “…give us a break in the houses of parliament…give us a bit of leverage…give us 12 months to turn this around. Give us a chance in life.” Paddy’s words chime with the efforts of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Gypsy Roma Travellers which is seeking to put pressure on Basildon Council and the Coalition government to accept an offer of mediation from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (8 and 9). Two applications for alternative sites are due to be heard in October, making a peaceful solution to the confrontatoin, in easy reach.
Join the latest Dale Farm Solidarity facebook event here.
1. Recordings of Mr Doherty available on request, although not suitable for rebroadcast. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Dale Farm media on: 07583761462
2. Commission for Racial Equality (2006) Common Ground: Equality, good race relations and sites for Gypsies and Irish Travellers: Report of a CRE inquiry in England and Wales. London: CRE. Available here. See also Equality and Human Rights Commission Report (2009) here
3. Available on request.
4. Interview by Jake Bowers of the Travellers Times, 2009, with Professor Luke Clements, Cardiff Law School see: http://vimeo.com/5471250
5. MEP Richard Howitt speaks at Dale Farm, Saturday 10th Sept. http://www.gypsy-traveller.org/dale-farm-mep-speaks-out/
6. Professor Yves Cabannes, 14th September, 2011. See: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/8762750/Dale-Farm-council-is-violating-international-law-claims-UN-representative.html
7. ‘Basildon Council sunk group appointed to solve Dale Farm crisis’ See Press release 14th September (available here for more information on letters revealing Basildon Councils withdrawal from duiscussions), and Dale Farm Solidarity Website: https://dalefarm.wordpress.com/2011/09/13/basildon-council-sunk-secret-group-appointed-to-solve-dale-farm-crisis/
9. Contact Andrew George MP Chair All Party Parliamentary Group for Gypsy Roma Travellers