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15th November 2011

Why Dale Farm Matters

This week judge Justice Edwards-Stuart scored victories for justice, humanity and common sense, as he granted the travellers camped at Dale Farm a week’s reprieve to fight their forced eviction. The injunction protecting the travellers has been seen as an affront to the law by some; or at least this is the line taken by […]

This week judge Justice Edwards-Stuart scored victories for justice, humanity and common sense, as he granted the travellers camped at Dale Farm a week’s reprieve to fight their forced eviction.

The injunction protecting the travellers has been seen as an affront to the law by some; or at least this is the line taken by those who support the move to evict the residents of Dale Farm for what are perhaps other reasons. For those who take this position, ‘isn’t there equality under the law?’ is the question to ask.

But those who do so risk missing not only the obvious answer (‘no, there is not’; again and again the holders of political power escape punishment), but also the implications of this situation for British and European society.

Although others might paint it differently, I see Justice Edwards-Stuart’s ruling as a victory for both justice and common sense. The first of these is debatable, depending on your personal view and priorities – mine include, ‘not evicting the elderly and infirm from their homes, and children from the communities they know’, just in case you were wondering (this is an opinion piece after all). That such an act was first considered and then (temporarily, as of writing this) prevented, indicates both the highs and the lows that the British justice system is capable of.

Communities expand, it’s what happens and it’s to be expected. Seeing as the government is a) selling off masses of the green-belt land for housing and b) all about community according to those at the top, the decision to evict them – after ten years of living in the same place! – makes no sense according to our leaders’ own rhetoric. The inhumanity of doing this to our own citizens should be obvious.

These acts of intolerance against a group made vulnerable by their position on the outskirts of society should not be allowed by a civilised government, and it’s pleasing to know that there still exist counterbalances to the current punishing mood of the country, brought on by scandal, disorder and recession in this country and many others as we approach the middle of the second decade of this century. With the BNP recently making their presence felt in British politics, and a dramatic rise in the visibility of far-right movements across Europe and the USA in response to what seems to be general global unrest, the protection of vulnerable groups is more important than ever.

The argument of upholding the law is a hollow one – building without planning permission is often travellers’ only option when 90% of the time their applications for permission are turned down at the first hearing due to pressure from local campaign groups. And, unlike some, I do not forsee a general breakdown of law and order resulting if the travellers are allowed to remain – people respect the law when it makes sense or not at all, and I fail to see that planning laws are the bedrock of the stability of this country. Others, of course, may disagree – to them, evidently, planning laws trump human welfare. These people have been there for ten years in some cases, and some are elderly, others reportedly ill. But, if distressing the ill and elderly for the sake of planning laws seems like a reasonable move to you, I’d ask you to remember this: moving these people would result in the government being legally responsible for rehousing them. So, why bother at all?

I think the answer to this question is one which I haven’t really seen directly acknowledged – people do not like having travellers camped nearby. They are seen as undesirables, and this somewhat less savoury motivation is what I suspect has moved the local government to press ahead, letting it be known unofficially that the travellers, once evicted, would be ‘kept moving’, and refusing the offer of help from EU human rights officials (the latter will no doubt be seen as a fantastic defence of our independence by some). People see travellers as criminals; terms which are arguably racial slurs (like ‘pikies’, popularised by the film Snatch) are common fare. Whatever the facts regarding travellers and crime, the perception is undeniably there – but government policy should not be based on the prejudice of locals, but on pragmatism, justice, humanity, and rationality, on all of which points the eviction of these people fails. Indeed, the acts being contemplated cannot be justified, because they amount to a form of ethnic cleansing. If Dale Farm is a hotbed of crime, the solution is not to just shunt the unfortunate inhabitants off to another part of the country where they’ll receive the same treatment, but to improve the resources available for policing and education – just as it is for any other community in the country. To ‘move on’ a whole community for crimes committed by a few is tantamount to punishing children for the crimes you assume they’ll commit, and seen in this light it’s no better than the inhumane treatment meted out to other ethnic groups in times past (and unfortunately ongoing). It’s true that traveller communities do, or are seen to, behave outside the norm for British society, but it’s hard to see how the solution to that problem if it exists will be found by what is effectively punishment of an ethnic group who lack the ability to legally protect themselves which is enjoyed by our more conventional citizens.

Surely the sensible solution is to grant an amnesty in this case, given the length of stay which has been effectively ignored by the law up to this point, on the condition that there is no further expansion of the site for now?

Got a different opinion? Think I’m preaching to the choir? Let me know at [email protected]

Paul Haslam

Paul Haslam

Former Comment and Debate Editor (2011).

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