Irish Travellers at Dale Farm: Land, Housing & Eviction

September 20, 2011 - activism / anthropology / ethics / experience / housing / land / law / Roma / Travellers

This post represents the beginning of some research I’m doing on the Irish Traveller community at Dale Farm. The working title is “When Nomads Fight To Stay: Land Zoning, Globalized Activism and Forceable Eviction at Dale Farm”

On July 4th, 2011, decades of legal battles came to a head with an eviction order for around seven acres of land in the Dale Farm community, in Essex county England, UK. After the courts ruled that they had settled there illegally, around 400 nomadic Irish Travellers were ordered to leave by August 31, 2011 or face demolition of their homes and property. The part of the settlement in question is described by local authorities as “unauthorized” in contrast to the neighboring and contiguous portion of the farm that is considered “authorized.” The land is classified or zoned as “green belt” and development has occurred without “planning permission.” However, all land in question was owned by Traveller, Romani and Gypsy families, however the seven acres in question, the county claims, were not zoned for residential construction.

Travellers, activists and supporters of the residents have deployed the discourse of “ethnic cleansing” to refer to the eviction. Activists and NGOs are asking not only for housing for the Travellers, but “culturally appropriate” housing. The local government (Basildon Council) is estimated to be prepared to spend 18 million pounds (about 30 million dollars) to evict and demolish the property. In September, 2011 Security forces constructed a compound outside Dale Farm from which to plan and coordinate the eviction.

“…modern totalitarianism can be defined as the establishment, by means of the state of exception, of a legal civil war that allows for the physical elimination not only of political adversaries but of entire categories of citizens who for some reason cannot be integrated into the political system” (Agamben 2005:2)

What’s happening here at the intersection of racism, prejudice and land zoning? How are zoning restrictions being used to enact exclusion of these nomadic people? How does international law speak to these issues? Are the travelers de facto stateless people, or UK citizens who also live in a legal grey area due to their nomadic tradition, lifestyle and reaction to those facts?

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UNCESCR) General Comment 4 describes the “right to adequate housing” applicable to those states who have ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1976). Aspects that make housing adequate are defined as: “a) Legal security of tenure; b) Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure; c) Affordability; d) Habitability; e) Accessibility; f) Location; and g) Cultural adequacy”
While there have been some offers of new or temporary or replacement housing made to the residents of Dale Farm, the discourse of responses often uses the phrase “culturally appropriate” housing. In text by Amnesty International UK, this refers to the deleterious effects on the families of dividing extended families into groups, as well as forcing some to “live in ‘bricks and mortar’ housing rather than caravans.”

The former owner of the land, Ray Bocking, a scrapyard dealer sold the land to the travellers in 2001. He is interviewed, the video is available on YouTube. Prior to the Traveller residence, the land was mostly concrete and was used as a scrapyard. However, the Basildon council argues that they the land is “greenbelt.” Constant & Co. have been hired as the bailiffs in this matter. The following text appears on the Constant & Co. web site under “Enforcement Services,” in the submenu “Travellers & Squatters”:


Constant & Company are employed nationally on a daily basis to recover possession of land from unwanted trespassers. We believe we are the most experienced, professional and busiest company in this type of work.

Court proceedings involve delay that can be extremely expensive. An occupation over several weeks at a trading site or shopping mall can result in a disastrous loss of business, but there is a fast alternative course of action that we utilise regularly and very successfully for many high-profile clients. Our bailiffs take legal possession of an occupied site usually within 24 to 48 hours of being instructed. Police are informed and called upon as necessary. We arrange attendance of tow trucks and cleansing contractors if needed.

Maybe your property has recently been occupied and has now been vacated. You may be thinking about clean-up services, temporary site security and/or concrete barriers quickly to prevent it happening again? We are your ‘one-stop shop’ and can provide a tailored, cost effective solution through our carefully selected partners.

A telephone call will initiate the process.

On August 5, 2011, Raquel Rolnik, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing said “Evictions constitute a grave breach of human rights if not carried out with full respect for international standards…We urge the UK authorities to halt the evictions process and to pursue negotiations with the residents until an acceptable agreement for relocation is reached in full conformity with international human rights obligations.”

UN-HABITAT responded to inquiries from the press on September 14, 2011 stating: “ We do not promote nor advocate forced evictions. We recognise and promote the progressive and full realization of the right to adequate housing as articulated in international instruments and the Habitat Agenda. We understand that resettlement may at times be an inevitable part of urban development.” However, in “cases where resettlement is inevitable as a result of all other alternatives and options having been exhausted” the statement calls on parties to “follow due process.” According to the statement, due process means: “a. timely information and sufficient communication to the affected population; b. participation and involvement of those affected; c. adequate compensation; d. alternative adequate housing; e. follow-up post-resettlement to ensure livelihood and economic development.”

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) has offered to enter the negotiations however the offer was rejected by the UK government. Expressing concern for further consequences of the forced eviction, Jan Jarab, the European representative for UNHCR said “It is actually very symbolic, this is the largest Irish Traveller site in the UK and it sends the message across the UK and also across the European Union that the Government is putting its weight behind an eviction based approach.”

September 19th, just before evictions were about to proceed, at 4:46pm, The Guardian reported (via the Press Association) that residents were granted a “last-gasp injunction restraining Basildon council from clearing structures from the site pending a further hearing at London’s high court on Friday.” The Telegraph reported that Justice Edwards-Stuart of London High Court “directed that Basildon should serve a schedule on the residents by noon tomorrow specifying what enforcement measures were proposed on a plot-by-plot basis” and that “residents were to take reasonable steps to permit council officials onsite to discuss arrangements with individuals, to discourage any further student protest, and to procure the dismantling of barricades”

In response the Dale Farm Travellers blog posted: Dale Farm resident, Kathleen McCarthy said, ‘We still need somewhere to go, if we have to leave here. Today is a great victory, but we still need Basildon Council to approve a legal site for us.’

Alexandra Topping for the Guardian wrote: Asked if the council would keep moving the Dale Farm Travellers on, he said they would not be allowed to settle elsewhere in the area: ‘We will keep on moving them until they find a proper site.’


Agamben, Giorgio. 2005. State of exception. University of Chicago Press.