4 July 2002 Edition

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Minister signs racist anti-Traveller law

BY JOANNE CORCORAN



Over one thousand Travelling families are living in fear of being evicted following the signing of a new housing act on Monday last. The new Housing Act, which has been branded racist by the Irish Travellers Movement, criminalises trespass on public and private land.

The Irish Traveller Movement (ITM) had been given a commitment by Minister Of the Environment and Local Government, Martin Cullen, that no order would be signed until Travellers' concerns were brought to the cabinet and also that they would be informed of developments.

The ITM says the minister reneged on both these commitments.

Travellers protested outside the Dáil on Monday to display their anger and disillusionment at the government actions.

Catherine Joyce, ITM coordinator, said of the new act: "This law is sending out a message to Travellers that this and previous governments are not committed to addressing their accommodation needs. The law is racist."

The Director of the National Women's Council of Ireland, Joanna McMinn, has expressed concern for the 1,200 travelling families on the roadside who will be affected by the law. She argues that the law will lead to the "criminalisation of entire communities of Travellers who are camped on public land awaiting permanent accommodation".

"As the national representative organisation for women, the NWCI is extremely concerned at the effect of this legislation on those who are most vulnerable in the Travelling community - the women and children. We are particularly mindful of the implications of eviction for Traveller women who are experiencing violence," she added.

Minister Cullen says that the new law has to be enforced. "It's a reality that illegal occupation of lands by members of the Travelling community has led to substantial damage to land and amenities," he said. "This has caused frustration and anger among the public and resulted in considerable clean up costs to the taxpayer."

According to Minister Cullen, the government has spent over €80 million on Traveller accommodation in the last five years and another €23 million has been put aside for 2002.

But Gráinne O'Toole of the ITM said the government's record of accommodating Travellers is appalling. She points out that only 129 legal stopping sites out of the 2,200 identified have been provided by local authorities around the country and no government action has been taken to address this lack of progress.

"We will fight this law all the way to Europe and we are confident that we will win, pledged Damien Peelo, chairman of the ITM accommodation group.

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