By Grattan Puxon
With the UK Government urging local councils to mount anti-Gypsy clearance operations over the Easter holiday, speculation has sharpened as to the fate of Dale Farm. The only Traveller-owned village – facing the furious folly of a 20m euro bulldozer-led onslaught – is enjoying greater support than at any time during its ten year-long siege. Meetings are taking place this week aimed at deterring Basildon Borough council from ordering the final assault, while voices from within all three major political parties have called for restraint.
Many are coming to see that exclusion methods will exacerbate a fraught situation, not only for Dale Farm families and the rest of Britain’s 350,000 Gypsies, but for the whole concept of the much-vaunted Big Society.
A delegation from an all party parliamentary group which, together with an Irish Embassy representative, visited Dale Farm last week is to recommend that fellow MPs back efforts to find alternative land for those facing eviction. Their stance has the authority of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to housing Raquel Rolnik, who has appealed to the UK over the massive clearance plan.
“Land is available within Basildon if the council will only agree to use it,” said Lord Avebury while lunching with the Travellers. “Eviction can most certainly be avoided.” Andrew Slaughter MP, Labour’s shadow justice minister, and MP Rodney Bickerstaffe, former head of Unison, were among those at the meeting, together with Conservative Richard Bennett, one-time chair of the Local Government Association. Lib Dem MP Andrew George has recently put down a motion asking Parliament to endorse the proposition that there can be no justification for evicting Travellers such as those at Dale Farm when there is nowhere else for them to go.
Before the week is over, a further team of legal observers will have received training in London for deployment during what could to be a month of confrontation and demolition. They will join dozens already signed up by Essex University Human Rights Clinic.
Harlow Against the Cuts, in company with anti-fascist and socialist groups, has scheduled for Thursday one of a number of information nights held around the country to recruit people willing to camp out with the Travellers. This volunteer home-guard is said to number over one thousand, with more on social networking yet to commit to a nonviolent protest.
Both the Children’s Commission and the Basildon Primary Care Trust have expressed concern over the trauma likely to be inflicted on children during the operation. The potential for human rights violations has been spelt out in an internationally-backed legal memorandum and a pre-action letter served on the council warns of judicial review proceedings should a final 28-day eviction notice be served this week. “We look at this as civil defence,” said a Dale Farm mother. “Everyone will be here to uphold human rights law and stop breaches of safety, which are sure to happen when people are being dragged out and our homes crushed.”