Dale Farm ruling a 'mockery' of anti-racist law

Fri, Mar 23, 2012, 00:00

A BRITISH court ruling that an Essex council does not have to offer halting sites to Irish Travellers makes “a mockery” of anti-discrimination laws, the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain has claimed.

The court of appeal in London found Basildon Borough Council in Essex did not have to offer “culturally-sensitive” accommodation rather than houses or flats when it cleared Dale Farm last year.

Lawyers for one of the Dale Farm Travellers, John Sheridan, who has a history of heavy drinking and psychiatric problems, told the court he had “an aversion to bricks and mortar accommodation”.

The council’s offer of a one-bedroom flat would cause him psychiatric harm, said Dr Mark Slater: “I do not think it would be overstating it to say that it could amount to a death sentence for him.” The appellants, Mr Sheridan, his estranged wife, Barbara, and Mary Flynn argued that they should have been offered an alternative site rather than council accommodation when Dale Farm was cleared.

Mr Sheridan remained dependent upon his wife while they lived separately at Dale Farm.

In the ruling, judges said the physical separation of Mr and Mrs Sheridan “is the inevitable result of their removal from Dale Farm”, coupled “with their decision not to seek accommodation” as a family.

Therefore, it was not unreasonable for Basildon Borough Council to proceed on the basis that Mr Sheridan’s psychiatric problems could be dealt with by the National Health Service.

Unhappy with the ruling, the Irish Traveller Movement said it displayed “a complete lack of cultural awareness and/or any understanding as to who the Gypsies and Travellers are. It also contradicts and makes a mockery of the Race Relations Act which clearly stipulates a right to a life of self-determination. This judgment is nothing more than forced assimilation of Britain’s Gypsy and Traveller communities.”

Since last year’s evictions, most of the Travellers have lived in caravans outside the camp, or in legal plots on the neighbouring Oak Lane halting site, though the owners of 10 plots are breaching occupancy limits by letting them stay there. Basildon council has issued 50 enforcement orders against the Travellers, giving them 21 days to respond.