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Go, Move, Shift
Travellers have been barred from the town of Larne in Northern Ireland, in what amounts to one of the most extreme uses of an ASBO yet under UK law. Report by Eamonn McCann.
Eamonn McCann, 21 Jun 2005
We might have seen it coming, but we didn’t. Following a decision at Larne Court last week, ASBOs can be used to bar Travellers from a town.
It was the NI Housing Executive (NIHE) that won an Anti Social Behaviour Order, which stipulates that two members of the Travelling community must stay outside town limits or face arrest. The two are part of a large family and social group, which is now effectively banned from entering the Co. Antrim port.
They will be allowed back into town only to attend court again on the July 1st. Magistrate Alcorn insisted, however, that on that date they must enter Larne on foot, having parked their vehicles beyond the town boundary.
The ASBO also bars them from a number of places outside the boundary, where they had previously parked, and orders them to desist from a range of activities, including urinating in public places. The council explained in court that it had applied for the order on the advice of the NIHE.
Every permanent halting site in the North is currently full. The NIHE is the body with responsibility for providing temporary sites.
One of the reasons the NIHE was given this role, in 1999, was because councils couldn’t be counted on to fulfil their duties to Travellers. The NIHE declared at the time: “The Executive looks forward with enthusiasm and confidence to taking on this new responsibility...(We) will ensure that the housing needs of the Travelling community are effectively and sensitively met.”
In hasn’t happened. Instead, the housing needs of Travellers have been virtually ignored, and Travellers forced as a result to camp illegally and in squalid conditions without proper sanitation. Now the body whose dereliction of duty has brought this situation about wins court orders against illegal camping or failure to use proper sanitation facilities.
County councils in the South, with statutory responsibilities equivalent to those of the NIHE, will have been among interested parties following the Larne case. It was noted that representatives of Belfast council were in court on June 10th, observing proceedings.
The Mayor of Larne, Unionist Alderman Charlie Ross, made no bones about the iobjective of the ASBO. “We want to get these people moving and then keep them moving,” he said.
The North’s Anti Racist Network (ARN) has called for protests outside the NIHE office in Belfast this Friday (June 17th). ARN spokesperson Barbara Muldoon told hotpress: “Anti Racists should make a big effort to attend this protest. What’s happened is a very dangerous step along the path of criminalising the Travellers’ way of life and making the already miserable conditions which they face even worse.”
Muldoon points to the statistics measuring Traveller oppression in the North.
* The mortality rate for children up to the age of 10 is 10 times that for the population as a whole.
*Overall life expectancy is 20 percent lower than for the general population; only 10 percent of Travellers are over 40, only one percent over 65.
* Travellers are eight times more likely to live in overcrowded conditions. Those without access to running water, electricity or sanitation include many living on official, “serviced” sites.
*Ninty-two percent have no secondary educational qualification. A hundred percent have no third level qualification.
On top of all this, the body with statutory responsibility for ensuring they have a place to stop takes court action to have them driven out of town. And in the process, it suggests a new means of Traveller oppression to authorities all over the island.
In one respect, this use of ASBOs is par for the course.The point, you see, is not to remedy a social problem but to push it out of sight. This is Ireland, in 2005.