Alert - New wave of evictions threatens Gypsies

Tony Gosling tony at
Sun Aug 1 20:39:40 BST 2010

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

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