From speech of Richard Howitt, Labour MEP for Essex and European Parliament Annual Human Rights Rapporteur to the protest at Dale Farm, Basildon, 10 September 2011.
“I want to begin by thanking the Travellers of Dale Farm for welcoming me again to your community today. To welcome all those who stand with you in peaceful defence of your rights. You have recognised that this isn’t just the struggle of one community but an issue of fundamental rights of concern to us all.
I’ve represented Basildon as its Member of the European Parliament since 1994. I acknowledge, in fact welcome the different views there are in the local community. But it is time to speak for the teachers at the local school where Dale Farm children study, the local religious leaders where Dale Farm residents worship, the students at Essex University who have volunteered their time. And the local politicians, not just myself, and I’m proud to say the Labour councillors on Basildon Council who oppose this eviction. I respect my relationship with Basildon Council. But if they go ahead, we should unite and say to them: “Not in my name!”
I’m a former chair of planning in Essex. I know about planning. I know how Tory Essex authorities fail to designate enough pitches for legal Travellers sites, and try to push the responsibility on to someone else. That one-in-five of Travellers in the East of England is officially homeless. And by God have the Travellers of Dale Farm sought to get planning permission. Their latest planning application on an alternative site south of the A127. A site owned by the Homes and Communities Agency who I personally have spoken to and who have told me (I quote): ‘We are willing to place any of our land in Basildon at the Council’s designation as a Gypsy and Traveller site(s)…We are willing to identify and invest capital to establish the pitches on such land…’
And fourth, that this is about upholding the law. Yes. It is. But it cannot mean cherry-picking which laws will be upheld, and which not.
This year I am the European Parliament’s Annual Human Rights Rapporteur.
Their rights are not just for Traveller families to have a home, and for their children to have an education. But for their culture to be respected. To be able to live according to the Traveller lifestyle.
And that is part of the law too. Human Rights law. And is upheld by the European Court of Justice.
As a Member of the European Parliament I have protested against the treatment of Travellers or Roma in the countries of Eastern Europe before they were allowed to join the EU. I have protested against the mass finger-printing of Roma in Italy, the first time it’s been done since it was done to Roma and to Jewish people in the holocaust. Of the Second World War And I have protested against the mass expulsion of Roma from France and the branding of all travellers as criminals, and seen France forced to back down.
So I will not stay silent if there is any danger that the very same discrimination takes place in my own country, here in my own constituency.
And what do you think if the United Nations Adviser on Adequate Housing says something is wrong? Or the United Nations Adviser against Racial Discrimination? You think it is wrong. And that is what they say about forced eviction at Dale Farm.
And when last week the UN Committee against Racism came here and said it was wrong to evict the travellers. That makes me think it is wrong.. And it is racist.
And when the Council of Europe human rights delegation came here and delivered it’s opinion confidentially to the British Government, I personally challenged David Cameron to publish the report and make it available to Basildon Council. Because that is a legal opinion based on compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights. If the law is being broken at Dale Farm, it could be that it is those who would evict, that it is they who are the law-breakers. So Basildon and all of us must be given sight of that report.
This is an issue of fundamental rights. That is why on Thursday of next week I have secured for the Dale Farm travellers an emergency debate at the EU Fundamental Rights Agency in Vienna. Only international pressure can make a difference now.
Earlier I said I love Basildon and I want to repeat that and to say that I love my country too.
But let me finish by saying that as a Member of the European Parliament I am deeply ashamed that action here in this community is bringing international opprobrium against our country. That Britain’s international reputation for tolerance, fairness and justice is being damaged at what may happen next. And that the time to listen to the criticism is now not later.
Let Dale Farm live.
Richard Howitt MEP