‘The council needs to stop seeing us as objects and start seeing us as people.” So says Mary Ann McCarthy, a Traveller who is facing eviction from Dale Farm in Essex.
Some 96 families live at Dale Farm, which is part of an Irish Traveller site. People have lived there since the 1970s. Travellers own the land, but Basildon council has refused to grant them planning permission to live there.
It claims the land is greenbelt (see box) and has issued them with eviction notices—even though they have nowhere else to go.
“It’s not like it used to be,” said Mary Ann, who has lived at Dale Farm for around ten years. “New laws have made it harder for us to travel now. That’s why we bought this land. But it seems we can’t do right for doing wrong.”
Dale Farm lies among fields and winding country lanes in Basildon. The local media paints it as a dirty hovel. It isn’t.
There are immaculate homes with gardens full of flowers. There are always people out washing the windows and sweeping the roads.
Children ride their bikes and play among the caravans. There is a sense of pride in the place they have made home.
But the threatened eviction has made life a living nightmare.
“I’m trying to block it out of my mind,” said Mary Ann. “Words can’t explain how I feel.”
Many on the site are vulnerable and would be put at risk if forced out on to the road. Several newborn babies and pregnant women live on the site. And some residents have serious medical conditions—including diabetes, heart problems, lung damage and cancer.
As Socialist Worker reported last week, the eviction would put some people’s lives in danger Exclusive: Dale Farm eviction threatens Travellers' lives.
But Basildon council wants to tear up their homes and leave them with nothing.
Margaret Gammell has diabetes, heart problems and high blood pressure. She is frightened about what will happen to her health if she has no permanent address and no doctor.
“Why is the council putting us through all this distress?” she asked. “They’ve no heart. They don’t care.”
Margaret says the eviction is about “prejudice”.
“I could end up left on the street with just a few bags of clothes,” she said. But she added, “We’ll fight to the bitter end.”
Mary Rolleston lives nearby with her grandson Dan, who has Down’s Syndrome. She said, “We’re devastated about the eviction. It’s terrible. People here are in homes that they own, living on land that they bought.
“A lot of people don’t sleep, and they cry all day.
“Dan was coming on great at the school and really enjoying it. But it will be a real problem for my daughter to get him into another school if we’re on the road.”
Lots of residents worry about how the eviction will disrupt children’s lives. Grandmother Nora Sheridan said, “I never got to school and I can’t read or write. My children can’t either. But now their children can read and write. They love school.”
The eviction is nonsensical. The council is willing to spend £18 million to make around 400 people homeless. It seems little thought has been given to what will happen after an eviction.
“It won’t solve anything,” said Mary Ann. “Travellers will have to move onto the nearest field and then they’ll be moved on again.”
The threat to Dale Farm is part of a wider assault on Travellers that is taking place across Europe. Grattan Puxon, a campaigner for Travellers’ rights, said, “This is similar to how governments are treating Travellers in Italy and France.
“It’s ethnic cleansing—and the government is paying for it.”
Travellers at Dale Farm have friends in the settled community—they go to mass together and meet at bingo. “There are a lot of good people out there who do like Gypsies and Travellers,” said Mary Ann.
“But others read the papers and make judgements. Some people can never see the good side of us. They can say horrible things—even when they don’t know us.”
Prejudice is one of the reasons why Travellers want to stay together on the site. Mary Ann said, “When I was travelling and there was a crime committed, the police would come straight to the Travellers. They’d assume it must have been one of us.
“But I’ve been here ten years and we’ve caused no problems—the police have never arrested anyone here.”
Time after time, Travellers say the money they are spending on the eviction should be spent on things people need. “I’ve seen children starving in Africa on the TV,” said Mary Rolleston. “It’s easy to think of something else to do with that money.”
Mary Ann added, “When I speak to people at bingo, you see they’ve got hard lives. Things they need are being cut and they can’t find jobs. That money could be put to much better use.”
Basildon council has failed to provide most of the families at Dale Farm somewhere else to live.
Mary Flynn said she was offered a second floor flat. She has the lung disease COPD and cannot manage stairs.
Mary’s husband died last year. “It was the worst experience of my life,” she said. “Now, I need to have my family around me, not live in a house on my own. I’ve never lived in a house, I’ve lived in caravans all my life.
“It’s nice to have people around to help you. They give me lifts to the health centre. If one’s gone out, others are always there.”
People don’t want to be split up from their families and see their way of life destroyed.
Nora says she once briefly lived in a house and was “terrified”. “I felt I had to get out,” she said. “It felt claustrophobic. I want to stay here, where all my friends are around me.”
Mary Ann says that she feels safe at Dale Farm. “My grandchildren can be out playing and I don’t have to worry about them,” she said. “We’re used to always being with Travellers.”
The eviction, if it happens, won’t be pretty. Previous evictions have seen bailiffs and police drag people from their homes and bulldoze them.
The council plans to use the notorious bailiff Constant & Co—and has approved £10 million for the policing operation.
Mary Ann said, “It will be awful for those who were born here and have never travelled. And if the machines and the bulldozers come it will be awful for the children.
“We just want the same as everyone else—a happy life.”
Like many Dale Farm residents, Margaret Gammell needs constant medication. The eviction notices state that “water and electricity supply will be cut off during the site clearance process”. Grattan Puxon told Socialist Worker, “One man needs to use a nebulizer machine constantly to help him breathe. It runs on electricity. If they switch off the electricity, they’ll kill him.”