The case of the 400 Irish Travellers illegally camped at Dale Farm in Essex and who are set to be forcibly evicted following the exhaustion of their legal appeals, shines a rare spotlight on to the lives of traveller communities.
The contested six-acre plot of greenbelt they inhabit (and which the travellers themselves own) was formerly a scrap yard before they moved onto it in 2001. Throughout this period, local Basildon council has been trying to uphold planning law and remove them.
Although the site is adjacent to a legal traveller encampment, it is too small to house the Dale Farm community. Their eviction will therefore leave them to the mercies of the open road, with no nearby alternative provision.
This will mean breaking up the tightly-knit extended families that currently live together and forcing traveller children from nearby schools.
While there is a balance to be struck between the interests of the travellers and the legitimate concerns of local residents, the broader experience is one where traveller and gypsy communities still face open hostility and discrimination that simply would not be countenanced against any other minority group.
Rather like Indian Dalits, they have become our ‘untouchables’, vilified for their unwanted presence and cruelly parodied for their lifestyle.
Over in the Daily Telegraph, onetime arch-lefty networker turned Conservative cheerleader, Cristina Odone, describes Irish Travellers as “troublesome land-grabbers” and claims their status as a distinct ethnic grouping is a “fiction”. Her equally kneejerk colleague, Ed West, goes further – belittling the travellers’ ethnic status as “a scam”....read more