The media today is full of pictures of the eviction of the residents from Dale Farm. Unfortunately events appear to have taken a violent turn and riot police are involved.
Any eviction of people from their home is distressing. I do however want to take issue with some of the reporting of this affair. The media refer to the residents of Dale Farm as “travellers” and are reporting this affair as a battle between the local authority and the “travellers”. Some have seen a racist dimension to this affair in that it seems that most of the “travellers” are Irish.
When I was a court official I used to have to deal regularly with cases involving travellers. Invariably these were cheerful young people who had chosen to live alternative lifestyles, which involved them moving from place to place and taking over empty land or buildings where they would live together in their own communities. In no case that I was involved in did such travellers invade residential land or property or inconvenience or seek to inconvenience neighbouring residents. Nor did they expect to stay where they were for very long. When the owner showed up they would invariably agree to leave but would ask for time to find themselves another place. Occasionally the owner would seek an eviction order in which case my job was to negotiate with the owner (invariably a big company or local authority) and its lawyers for the travellers to be granted a short time (usually a week) to leave. At the end of this period leave they invariably did. As I remember not one of these cases ended in ugly or violent confrontations. Usually the owner was perfectly happy to give the travellers the time they asked for. In the rare cases where the owner did not the court could be relied upon to give the travellers the time they needed instead. Contrary to what is often said judges have a generally indulgent attitude towards travellers as mostly do the settled communities near whom they live.
The Dale Farm affair is completely different and I question whether the people involved who are occupying the land are “travellers” at all. The fact that they own the land and sought to make permanent homes on the land contradicts everything I know about travellers. In my opinion it is completely inconsistent with these people being travellers. Travellers are by definition people who follow nomadic lifestyles and who have no permanent home, which in the case of the people who live on Dale Farm is clearly not the case.
If one puts to one side the idea that the residents of Dale Farm are travellers then Dale Farm is revealed in its true light as a big residential development carried out without planning permission and without heed to building or health and safety regulations by a developer from Ireland who has settled the development with relatives and friends. That the development has been carried out in a slapdash way using cheap materials so that much of the housing is primitive and substandard does not alter the fact that Dale Farm is a residential development and not a travellers’ site. Given the way in which it has been built without planning permission and without heed to building or health and safety regulations the local authority is actually under a duty to clear the site and to demolish it.
There are countless cases every year of local authorities intervening to clear and demolish illegal developments that have been built without planning permission and without regard to building and health and safety regulations. These never excite comment because the developers responsible never attract sympathy. In the case of Dale Farm one is sorry for some of the people involved (especially the children) though I understand that the local authority has confirmed that it is prepared to re house these people as indeed is its duty. Having said this I cannot help but feel that the reason the Dale Farm residents have attracted so much more sympathy than do other developers who break the law is because there exists a romantic assumption that they are travellers who are being persecuted by the authorities and by the local community when in fact they are not.