Gypsies, and I don’t know why, but I always feel a wee bit uncomfortable calling anyone a gypsy, I think that its a word I have heard used more often than not as a form of abuse, it could possibly be that and, I do suspect that we non-gypsies have have done that terrible damage to this wonderful and otherwise romantic arm of the human race.
Romani Gypsies have been in Europe for more than 1,000 years and have had a sizable presence in Britain since the early 1500s. There is also another group, the Irish Travellers, which I think one should be very careful not to confuse the two groups which is often done and especially by the media and authorities alike.
The inhabitants and resident's of Dale Farm are Irish Travellers, this is a very important distinction that we should make when attempting to understand and comment on the struggle being waged at Dale Farm by the Travellers and their supporters who are standing strong against Basildon council’s attempts to evict the 400 Travellers who after today's showdown remain defiant.
Irish Travellers are a largely nomadic group, with values culture and traditions that manifest themselves in ‘Traveller Nomad-ism’ no permanent home but move about according to the seasons. That’s not to say this is a fixed and fast way of life, because many have in recent years made permanent their home to all extent and proposes on static sites and locations such as that to be found at Dale Farm. In East London some have moved off the road and made home in houses and dwellings that now serves as living quarters for their families, I have the pleasure to count many amongst my friends, and therefore have a little knowledge about their distinctive lifestyle both on and off the road.
Irish Travellers were recognised as an ethnic group in the UK in 2000 following the High Court case of Kiely and others v. Allied Domecq and are now protected under race relations legislation. Irish Travellers sometimes are referred to as ‘Minceir’ or ‘Pavees in their own language known as Cant/Gammon, the survival of this language is a testament to the resilience of this minority group in the face of numerous pressures and threats.
It is difficult to identify the exact origins of Irish Travellers. Some claim they are the descendants of the dispossessed from the war with Cromwell in the seventeenth century or the ‘Great Famine’ in Ireland in the mid nineteenth century. However there are some who contest such claims and propose much earlier origins. Of evidence which points to the existence of nomadic groups in Ireland as early as the fifth century AD and by the twelfth century the name Tynkler or Tynker is said to have been given to a group of nomads who had maintained a separate identity, social organisation and dialect.
Like many poor and excluded groups in Ireland Irish Travellers have emigrated in order to secure better material conditions. In 1995 it was claimed that there were 19,000 Irish Travellers living in Britain but as they are not included as a census category it is difficult to reach an accurate figure. Irish Travellers in Britain and Ireland remain a highly marginalised group with a poor health profile and access to services. They are also suffering as a result of the national shortage of sites as many do not have secure or authorised places to live. They are also highly discriminated against. The campaign for Travellers’ rights is a key battleground for human rights and equalities in Britain, and Dale Farm should be seen as part of that struggle. Today the Travellers at Dale Farm won a reprieve when the High Court granted an injunction that stops Basildon council from carrying out the planned evictions, but another hearing takes place on Friday and I hope that we can feed off this boost and double even treble’numbers on site as a victory here would gives us all such a spring of confidence, and so badly needed.