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Support the Dale Farm families - Put a marker down to stop the racist onslaught against Travellers

category ireland / britain | migration / racism | opinion / analysis author Tuesday October 11, 2011 17:13author by Shane O'Curry - WSM Report this post to the editors

Dale Farm is a halting site  which is also the largest concentration of Irish Travellers in Britain, being home to over 1000 people (about 100 families), many of whom are said to have their cultural roots in Rathkeale in Limerick.  It was started in the 1960s when a number of families bought the former scrapyard site and Basildon council granted planning permission for 40 houses. This happened in the context of broad progress in race relations and a brief breeze of relative official tolerance for Travellers, epitomised in  the liberal-sponsored 1968 Caravan Sites Act.  Basildon Council have put aside an £18 million budget to bulldoze the site and forcefully evict the families (a staggering figure when you consider that in 2010 the total UK budget for providing Travellers with halting facilities was less than 30 million).

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The notorious 1994 Criminal Justice Act effectively repealed  the  1968 Caravan Sites Act, signaling a return to the usual form for legislation in Britain, Ireland and Europe, in that it also effectively criminalises nomadic culture and Travellers way of life.  The general thrust of  legislation and policy in Ireland, Britain and Europe,  has for the most part been about framing Travellers, Romanies,  Rroma, Tziganes, Gitanos and other nomadic peoples as problematic populations whose way of life  must be criminalized and whose cultural distinctions eliminated.  The net result of these policies, if you are from one of the many nomadic cultures  is, according to every post-war study by the EU, WHO, World Bank and UN,  all your quality of life indicators ( life expectancy, death rate, infant mortality, general health, mental health, suicide, literacy etc.) are continents away from that of your settled neighbours. It is literally the difference between the first and third worlds.

Similar legislation in Ireland, such as the specifically anti-Traveller  Section 24 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2002, and the continued non-recognition of Traveller ethnicity by the Irish State, contributes to  a historic trend of forced sedentarism for Travellers infamously celebrated  by Charlie Haughey  in his 1960 remark that “There can be no final solution of the problem created by itinerants until they are absorbed into the general community” ( the choice of the words “Final Solution” only 15 years after the end of the ‘Porrajmos’, in  which European Fascism’s  “Final Solution” meant the extermination of 1.5 million Roma,  can only be read as intentionally echoing Hitler’s words.)

As the  halting sites in Britain have become  increasingly blocked, increasing numbers of Travellers, including some English Romanies, came to settle in Dale Farm, as it is one of the only safe spaces left where Travellers can live and work  in their  traditional extended family units, and where they can practice their culture and build for the future . Dale Farm is the last option for Travellers wanting to live as Travellers. As 69 year old resident Mary Ann McCarthy told the Guardian last year “"Without an address you can't get doctors, our kids can't go to school. The camps we used to pull in to have been closed and barricaded up. Travelling life is finished for Travellers." New families came to the Traveller-owned site to make a life for themselves. The settlement extended into parts of the former scrapyard deemed ‘green belt’ by the Tory council, and near-futile attempts were painstakingly made  to get planning permission (in Britain, less than 20 percent of applications for planning permission are granted to Travellers, compared to over 60 percent for non-Travellers).

Now that Dale Farm residents and Traveller activists fight the last of their legal appeals , the end of a long and exhausting journey,  solidarity in the form of Traveller activists and other ‘fellow-travellers’ pours  in from around Britain and Ireland, and legal action gives way to direct action as people brace themselves to face the bailiffs and bulldozers, and the cover given to them by racist media and politicians.

Ireland’s all-Traveller forum, Minceirs Whiden, has called for a vigil or picket of the British Embassy in Ballsbridge, this Friday, 16 September, from 12.30 pm to 2 pm.  The vigil has been called in solidarity with the families who are facing eviction from their own land at Dale Farm, in Essex. If there is a time to show your  solidarity with Dale Farm residents and Travelling people throughout Europe, it is now. Come to the picket at the British Embassy in Ballsbridge this Friday at 12.30. “Stop the Bulldozers: respect Traveller culture and ways!”

WORDS: Shane O'Curry

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