Dale Farm residents say “we have nowhere else to go”

The Dale Farm community have put out a desperate plea for land on the eve of the eviction.

Basildon Council has repeatedly refused an offer of free land by the Homes and Communities Agency to rehouse the Dale Farm community. [1]

In the Court of Appeal on Monday, the barrister for the Dale Farm residents stated “there will be a number of families on the roadside if your lordship rules against us today”. The forced eviction, which has been condemned by the United Nations and Amnesty International, threatens 83 families with homelessness. [2]

Dale Farm resident Kathleen McCarthy said:
“We are staying until we are forced from our land because we have nowhere else to go. Everyone we know is here on Dale Farm, all our families and friends. Who else is there to turn to? Why did Basildon Council turn down the offer of land for alternative sites for people of Dale Farm? They are tearing apart our community, leaving us to bring up our kids on the roadside.”

Dale Farm supporter Lily Hayes said:
“Irish Travellers are a recognised ethnic group, and their culture and communities depend on maintaining their lifestyle, living in caravans as extended families who care for their children and elderly.[3] They have a right to continue their way of life, yet it is being criminalised. They’re stuck between a rock and hard place, as they are being told that they can’t travel, but neither can they stay on the land that they own. The Dale Farm residents and their supporters are standing together today to resist this injustice.”

Background to Dale Farm

Traveller and Gypsy communities have been increasingly marginalised by changing laws over the last two decades. In 1994, the Conservative government repealed the Caravan Sites Act, reducing the obligation for local councils to provide sites. At least 5000 families were left without any legal home.

The Gypsies and Travellers were told that they should look for their own sites and buy their own land and that councils would give them planning permission. This is what the Dale Farm community did, with most of them moving to the site in 2000. However, 90% of Travellers planning applications are turned down, compared with 20% for the settled community. Families have been forced to either go into housing or apply for planning permission retrospectively.

There has been a national failure of local councils to provide pitches. Councils have a duty to accommodate Travellers as part of Regional Spatial Strategies, yet nationally councils are 20,000 pitches short of their legal duties [3]. This figure leaves out pitches for the estimated 50% of the Traveller, Roma and Gypsy population who are living against their will in bricks and mortar accommodation [4]. 18 per cent of Gypsies and Travellers were homeless in 2003 compared to 0.6 per cent of the population. The Conservative government are now attempting to abolish the Regional Spatial Strategies.

Notes to the editor:

[1] https://dalefarm.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/110831-richard-howitt-mep-3.pdf.

[2] In August 2011 the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik appealed to the UK government to cease the evictions at Dale Farm, warning the government that without appropriate alternative sites, the eviction breaches international Human Rights legislation to which the UK government is committed. Also in August, 2011, Amnesty International launched a call out to its massive international membership imploring campaigners to condemn forced evictions at Dale Farm if these are instigated without alternative provisions being made available to families.

[3] It is important to note that Romani Gypsies and Irish Travellers have been held to be ‘ethnic’ groups for the purpose of the Race Relations Act (RRA) 1976. In CRE v Dutton,1 the Court of Appeal found that Romani Gypsies were a minority with a long, shared history, a common geographical origin and a cultural tradition of their own.

In O’Leary v Allied Domecq,2 HHJ Goldstein reached a similar decision in respect of Irish Travellers. Although a county court judgment, it should be noted that, in Northern Ireland, Irish Travellers are explicitly protected from discrimination under Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 article 5, and this makes it highly unlikely that their status as members of a separate ethnic group could be open to challenge again in the United Kingdom.

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