9 May 2002 Edition

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Travellers protest new law

Over 1,000 people filled the length of O'Connell Street last Thursday to protest the government's recent legislation making trespass a criminal offence, in the process criminalising the traditional nomadic way of life of the Travellers that the same government had sworn to respect and protect.

Travellers and settled people came from all over the country to protest at this legislation (the Housing Miscellaneous Provisions Act) which criminalises Travellers for government failure to provide the accommodation it had promised. "The legislation enshrines racism and legitimises the exclusion of Travellers who have nowhere to live. The right to accommodation is a basic human right," said Jennie McMinn, director of the Women's Council of Ireland.

"It is a disgraceful piece of legislation," said Michael Farrell of the Irish Council of Civil Liberties and a member of the recently established Human Rights Commission. "Trespass has always been a civil wrong. Now it is to become a criminal offence, where unless you can prove you have the consent of the owner of the land on which you stand, you are in breach of the law and face a prison sentence."

"Travellers," he went on, "are being victimised for the government's failure to do its job. The government promised 2,200 units of accommodation to be provided for the Travellers. To date they have provided 111 accommodation units.

"And this legislation is a betrayal of trust. Negotiations were ongoing with Travellers. Then without discussion or consultation the government introduced this amendment criminalising Travellers for existing. It is a denial of the partnership the government said they believed in, and a breach of faith on the government commitment to a policy of anti-discrimination."

Beside the Liffey in bright sunshine outside the Customs House and Department of the Environment, speakers addressed the very large crowd on their determination to see this amendment withdrawn.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1