UN urges council to postpone eviction of Irish Travellers


THE UNITED Nations has urged an English local authority to delay the evictions of hundreds of Irish Travellers until “culturally appropriate” accommodation can be found.

The call came as local Labour councillors, who oppose the evictions, expressed disagreement with party leader Ed Miliband’s support for the move by Basildon Borough Council, saying he did not understand the issues.

In a statement, the UN’s Committee on Racial Discrimination expressed “deep regret” at the council’s determination to remove Travellers from part of the Dale Farm site outside the Essex town, where they have lived in breach of planning laws for up to a decade.

The evictions would “disproportionately affect the lives of the Gypsy and Traveller families, particularly women, children and older people, and create hardship, until culturally appropriate accommodation is identified and provided”, the UN committee said.

The leader of Labour councillors in Basildon, Cllr Linda Gordon, said she was “ashamed of living” in Basildon “and ashamed of the human race” over the level of support in the town for the removal of the Travellers.

Many locals, she said, misunderstand the issues, believing Dale Farm would be Traveller-free after the evictions, “but it won’t, since the ones living at the front of the site are living there legally and are not going anywhere”.

Mr Miliband supported the decision of the Conservative-controlled council to go ahead with the £18 million (€20.5 million) eviction plan, saying: “The law does have to be upheld right across the country, whatever background people are from, wherever people are.”

Cllr Gordon, who said she and her 10 Labour council colleagues had been subjected to local abuse for opposing the evictions, said she was “disappointed” with Mr Miliband’s comments. She believed he made them “without having any idea of the actual circumstances” at Dale Farm.

Much of the local opposition, she said, was coming from people who live nowhere near Dale Farm: “I don’t know if many of them have even driven past the place. It makes me quite ashamed to live in the borough. You would think that we are living in some Third World dictatorship. This isn’t some oasis of loveliness, it was a scrapyard.”

A local multi-faith group, some of whom have been involved in past talks between Israelis and Palestinians, has offered to chair last-minute negotiations. Its chairman, Rev Paul Trathen, said: “We haven’t got a prescription or a sticking plaster that is ready prepared, but I am someone who believes in last possibilities.”

The High Court in London ruled on Wednesday that the Travellers’ human rights had been fully considered during years of legal battles, although it demanded that council officials investigate the health of one Traveller, 71-year-old Mary Flynn, before it acts.