Why I will not watch the Dale Farm denouement

I can’t pretend to have followed the saga of Dale Farm up close and personal.  Sometimes, things are too painful and you know it wasn’t ever going to have a happy ending.  Not for the little people in this everyday tale of prejudice and malice.  But like many, I’ve been cheering the residents on silently from the sidelines, willing and hoping that for once, a new history could be written.  One where Roma and gypsy travellers aren’t persecuted.

Roma peoples are everyone’s easy target.  If it was anyone else who had developed Dale farm illegally, retrospective planning consent could have been applied for and, albeit subject to some conditions, granted.  We should be applauding people for reclaiming brownfield land and developing it as homes not condemning them.  And if it had been the local moneybags builder, I’m sure the local council would have done just that.

Nobody wants them as neighbours.  Everyone treats them as if they have no rights, only responsibilities to behave and live their lives the way we think they should.  Even here in Scotland. We may be proud of being a mongrel nation, of weaving many multi-cultural threads into our national tapestry, but there is little weft for Roma.

Fifteen years ago, I got to know my local traveller population when myself and a fellow councillor championed their needs.  Their historic site close to the main trunk road and the shore was seen as prime development land and they were a prominent eyesore, barely tolerated.  The then local council and major building firm (the one that built all of Scotland’s shabby, modern football stadia) cooked up a land swap in private and the travellers’ site was removed to a dank and miserable, and frankly dangerous, patch on the side of a local quarry.  Admittedly, amenities such as running water, electricity, and a communal wash and laundry block were provided but the site had big tipper trucks rumbling in and out all day, the noise and the dust was unbearable and the site was over a mile from the nearest village.  Out of sight and out of mind.

They got a racist in as the local site manager, who made the families’ lives hell.  The children were refused access to local health facilities, the local school treated them with contempt.  People I had known all my life surprised me with the brutality and casualness of their racism and discrimination.

At a national level too, Scotland has little to be proud of in its treatment of our gypsy traveller population.  Denied the status of other ethnic minorities, funding was withdrawn for their national association, seats at tables denied, a national strategy promised and never materialised.  Life expectancy is low, health problems rife, educational attainment poor.  And now previously resourced provision at local authority level is being dismantled, with local authorities harassing them beyond their boundaries.  This excellent article highlights the lack of temporary sites and recent treatment by politicians and officials alike.  It’s little to be proud of.

Though in one sense, we are only following a longstanding European tradition, that has its roots in ancient peoples – the fear of difference.  For centuries, Roma and gypsy travellers have been everyone’s bogeymen, even in supposedly egalitarian and forward thinking countries.  I recall being horrified when a Sami woman told me how in Sweden, young Sami women who went into hospital for other treatments routinely emerged, sterilised, without their knowledge or their consent.

A recent trip to the European Parliament in Strasbourg found me in my element, listening in at a joint committee discussion with the European Commissioner for Human Rights, the same one who has sent his support to the community at Dale Farm.  Many questions were posed and answers given but one topic dominated:  the treatment of Roma and traveller peoples.  Of how right wing governments like Sarkozy’s in France were displacing communities in order to appease restless native populations.  And of how many were being forcibly repatriated to their supposed home countries like Roumania, only to find that they were not welcome there.  Roma refugee camps are now in evidence at the borders of Eastern European countries.  Some of the opposition to Hungary and Roumania acceding to the freedom of movement Schengen agreement was voiced in terms of allowing undesirables like Roma to move freely across Europe without having to satisfy border controls.   Racism and overt displays of discrimination and prejudice are tolerated against Roma and traveller people in a way that would cause outrage if they were targeted at other communities.

We refuse them the right to roam and also the right to settle.  We expect them to conform then complain when they do.  We sniff at their centuries-old extended family tradition, yet daily allow governments to preach parenting at us.  We suspect them of crimes and immorality at every turn, oblivious to the hypocrisy inherent in our sly practices towards traveller communities.  We eye them only as a burden to be tolerated barely, blithely ignoring the enrichment their cultural heritage has provided for our lives and traditions.

I will not listen nor watch to the voracious, distasteful voyeurism of the UK media reporting gleefully on each step of the Dale farm denouement today, reinforcing racism with every breathless report and pronouncement.

For I know how it ends.  With families terrorised, a community displaced, a way of life pilloried.  And a majority population that has bullied and blustered its way to smug self-satisfaction at having made its life a little more homogenous and a little less threatened by difference.  And inside I shall weep at how reminiscent it all is of 1930s Germany.

29 thoughts on “Why I will not watch the Dale Farm denouement

  1. @burdzeyeview

    You keep calling the residents of Dale Farm Roma When they are not! they are Irish Travellers there is no such thing as gypsy travellers the word gypsy describes the Roma (Romany) people which means if you don’t know out of Egypt or Egyptian.

    These Irish Travellers have no Roma blood.

    • The ethnic definition in the UK is gypsy/traveller. I do know what Roma means thank you.

    • The ethnic definition in the UK is gypsy/traveller? Lol no its not Gypsies refer to Roma and Traveller refer to none Roma Get it right next time.

      I also now what Roma Means as I am of Roma blood.

      I also live in Basildon not far from Dale Farm and can tell you that the residents of the illegal Dale Farm site are Irish Traveller not Roma and not Gypsy/Travellers ever and the picture that they have tried to paint of themselves being hard done by and poor is just not true!

      The legal part of dale farm was started by 2 Roma brothers in the late 80’s but even that is mostly Irish Travellers now as they pushed their way in, in about 2000.

      They basically pushed out most of the English Roma from the site. Last time I went round the site it was nearly all Irish Travellers and that was about 7 years ago. and the site was like a dumping ground full of shit and rubbish they turned it into a mess.

      They Started up the illegal part in 2001 which they have made a lot of money from the illegal site by selling the plots to other Travellers they were charging up to £50,000 a plot and at its hight they had about 50+ plots do the maths?

      they have money and property in Ireland there just good bullshitters.

      I’m not having a go at all Irish Traveller its just these ones are a bad lot and full of shit to boot!

  2. My understanding is that the group ignored the planning process, camped down in an area illegally and have fought to stay there for ten years, despite housing being made available in the area and Basildon already providing much higher than average provision for travellers. The council also scoped out potential sites for travellers but local people objected to it, as they have a right to do.

    1930s Germany? Are you having a laugh?

    This is the equivalent of me camping out in Kensington and insisting that land is made available for me to build a house there cos that’s where I’ve chosen to lay my hat.

    An unfortunate situation but eviction is the right decision if there’s genuinely no space in the local area where locals are happy to share the area with them. That’s democracy for you I’m afraid.

    • I think that like everyone else, you have picked up on one part of the post and ignored the litany of issues I have outlined that traveller communities face in their daily lives, right across Europe. Sterlilisation, eviction, enforced repatriation, denied access to basic amenities – this is indeed what happened to them in 1930s Germany, and sadly still does today. I’d suggest you read up on a little history and European wide current affairs before making such ill-informed jibes in future,

      • Far from ill-informed jibes, I in turn believe you are needlessly conflating two issues. The treatment of the Roman peoples across Europe, partricularly in France is abysmal.

        That has little to nothing to do with Dale Farm which was quite simply a group of people ignoring a democratically-rejected planning application that didn’t go their way. The eviction is unfortunate but it’s an open and shut case.

        And, as your post title was about Dale Farm, that was the issue that I stuck to with my comment, even if you chose not to (presumably for misty-eyed handwringing reasons) in parts of your article.

  3. Thanks for this – hearing the council leader interviewed this morning, it is pretty clear that his answer to the question “Where should they go?” was “anywhere but here!”. When he was tackled on the most obvious solution, that the council finds six acres somewhere for a site to replace the one that the traveller community own, his lack of an answer spoke volumes. Well done though, to the eco-activist community for getting behind the travellers…

  4. Hear here!

  5. Just wanted to add my congratulations for the article. I haven’t really been following the story although it will be interesting to see what happens to the land once it’s owners have been evicted.

  6. Interesting that you actually managed to invoke Goodwins law within your own article.

    I still get confused at the idea of members of the travelling community wanting permanently sited homes.

    • Because they have learned to conform, and also because they want stability and better outcomes for their children. They know their way of life is dying so they need to equip children to survive in our world that means permanent roots to enable them to go to school regularly, access health provision etc. But caravans allow them the sense that they can take off again if needed. They didn’t ask for permanent sites but severe shortage of temporary ones these days means little choice.

      • So what should be provided?

        More temporary sites or more land available to build on? If its the latter, can land be packaged in a way that means only travellers can be allowed to buy it? I’d be surprised.

        If its more site to pitch then where should they be? I remember when Lothian Buses had to stop using the Straiton Park & Ride due to the behaviour of travellers who had pitched up there. Which community would welcome that?

    • I think you mean Godwins law. And are you suggesting that invoking Nazism when discussing treatment of Roma and travellers then and now is inappropriate? If so, I suggest you need to read up on the Holocaust and who else the Nazis persecuted and exterminated.

  7. Good blogpost reassuring to see someone actually considering the wider issues and principles. To me I still don’t understand how the state has the power to remove people from land they own, it makes no sense.

    • Thanks Rob, nor to me though clearly there have to be rules on what people can and cannot do on land and what is permitted development. Would you or I have been treated the way the traveller families have been for doing what they did? I think not.

      • Even rich people dont get to keep their illegally built homes: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-beds-bucks-herts-13004506

        If this couple do not vacate their house and demolish it, the council can have it demolished, using bailiffs to remove the couple if required.

        Is this any different? Does this story fit with your narrative?

      • Usually, such disputes are settled without recourse to court action but by a bit of give and take on both sides. The council was right to take a hard line because they had been deceived, this is clearly agricultural land and the couple were trying to profit out of circumventing planning laws. The travellers bought the land and located their caravans on it as somewhere to live. The main issue is that their neighbours didn’t like it and objected. And Dale Farm is part of a wider treatment of traveller communities by whole sections of society and the authorities that taken together amounts to discrimination.

  8. Do you object to anyone without planning permission being evicted or just this group?

    I’m struggling to see the connection with 1930s Germany. While imperfect and incomplete, the direction of travel in recent decades in the UK has been towards effective legal protection for minorities. It would be grossly pessimistic to think that travellers will end up in British extermination camps in this decade.

    • I think there are very few instances of someone owning land and being evicted from it. And while the laws of the land around planning and unregulated development must be abided by, it is only on very rare occasions that some accommodation is not reached to allow development to stay but with modifications. The council in this case has wilfully bent the definitions to come up with a planning solution to a political problem. I don’t think any other group of settlers would have been treated inthis way, no.

      The outcomes for Roma and gypsy travellers suggest that whatever the law and policy says, little actual protection is being afforded. And yes it is grossly pessimistic, but all around Europe this is the direction of travel. Claude Moraes MEP has written some good, thoughtful articles on the consequences of rightwards political drift for minorities. Extermination camps, perhaps not, but some would argued enforced settlement on legal sites/reservations has the same impact.

      • Very woolly.

        This case has been before the courts for ten years. The first enforcement notices were served in 2001. If there had been an abuse of process I think we’d have heard about it by now.

        I’m not sure how you can simultaneously argue for these travellers to be allowed to settle permanently and also say that providing legal sites as per the current law is somehow akin to genocide.

      • You’re very sure of what travellers shouldnt be allowed to do. Where should they go?

    • I’m posting this here because the site doesn’t let me put it further down.

      “Where should they go?”

      According to reports, some of the travellers are extremely wealthy and have many properties in Ireland. I don’t think we need to be worried about them.

      As for the others, they’ve had ten years to find themselves somewhere to go. While Basildon Council says that it has offered accommodation to those that need it, it seems a bit rich that you can fight eviction for so long and then skip to the front of the housing queue as an emergency case.

      These people have tried to cheat the system for a long period of time. And they’ve done well out of it: cheap accommodation for over a decade. Now that the law is finally being enforced things are inconvenient for many of them I’m sure. It’s impossible not to see this as a situation of their own making.

      I’d appreciate it if you’d not continue to insult the victims of the Holocaust by drawing comparisons between this extremely slow and measured enforcement of planning law and the murder of six million of people.

  9. Powerful and persuasive overall. There is one faultline in the application of this argument to the present situation though, which is that Dale Farm is not a Roma site, it is an Irish traveller site. It does neither group service to conflate them, as they have very different origins and traditions.

    But the far more significant point is that they share the same problems in this country, as you set out very well.

    As soon as the council started lying about green belt planning permission their cover was blown. Planning permission wasn’t denied to protect the countryside. It was denied to keep the travellers away.

    One other point that needs made is that like in many deprived areas, there is heightened criminality in some traveller sites. We should acknowledge this, but we should tackle it in the same way we do in deprived urban areas, not by condemning an entire set of people but by catching and punishing the criminals.

    • I know that gypsy travellers are different from Roma but they are both nomadic peoples from the same ethnic traditions – both traditional Irish and Scottish traveller communities can trace their roots back to continental Roma populations.

      I’d be interested to see the stats showing that there is heightened criminality in areas where there are traveller sites compared to other areas. Most traveller communities are pretty law-abiding, though there are traditional mores that mean they break some of our petty laws and rules in how they go about their business.

  10. Excellent piece.

    I have gained an additional perspective having lived in the part of Govanhill that has experienced a huge influx of Eastern European Roma over the past 5 years or so. I’ve been living here the whole time.

    I was lucky enough to meet someone early on who had personal knowledge of Roma culture and customs within Eastern Europe; he gave me a few key greeting phrases to say in their language and explained a lot about their culture to me that hadn’t made sense before. Also, we had a family in our close for some time which included a young man who spoke reasonable English so I chatted to him a bit.

    I have no brilliant conclusion except to implore people to look beyond outward differences in culture; it’s true many elements of traveller cultures do challenge things that settled cultures hold onto very tightly, so tightly they believe them to be “universal” values: they aren’t. So suddenly some of the descendants of past influxes to Govanhill (Highlander, Irish and Pakistani) find themselves all ganging up on the impossibly alien newcomers, accusing them of all the things that their people used to be accused of.

    And some of them work towards understanding. Thank you for your contribution to this!

    • Thanks Morag Eyrie! It is all about tolerance and understanding, but it was ever thus in terms of discriminated against groups ganging up against those lower down the ladder than themselves. And in a wider sense, some of the treatement of Roma and gypsy traveller families is played out against Muslim communities and in our insistence on there being shared British values that everyone should subscribe to. I personally have some difficulty with that….

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