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Thursday, March 23, 2017
Catholic agency statement on Travellers and Gypsies
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 The Catholic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ) has submitted the following statement to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister today. Their views are endorsed by the Rt Rev Patrick O'Donoghue, Bishop with Responsibility for Travellers' Concerns at the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England & Wales CARJ welcomes the recent ODPM Consultation Paper, Planning for Gypsy and Traveller Sites, which seeks to address the issue of the status of the travelling community. CARJ notes that Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers have been recognised by the courts as being distinct ethnic groups entitled to protection by the Race Relations Act 1976. The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 also places a positive responsibility on public bodies to promote equality and good race relations. CARJ regrets that, despite this legislation, research has shown these groups to be amongst the most discriminated against in the country. A Mori poll found that more people (one-third) believe it is acceptable to discriminate against Gypsies and Travellers more than against any other group. The Commission for Racial Equality has found Gypsies and Travellers facing discrimination in education, health and accommodation. Save the Children in Scotland has shown that almost a third of Traveller women had been refused registration at a GP's surgery at least once. There is a growing feeling amongst the travelling community of being under threat. The lack of suitable accommodation, the lack of security of tenure on existing sites and the often hysterical coverage in some sections of the media has helped to fuel an ever-growing feeling of vulnerability among Gypsies and Travellers. CARJ believes that it is essential, as part of the ODPM's ongoing review of Gypsy and Traveller policy, that it must continue and enhance its efforts to ensure good community and race relations between travelling and settled communities. We welcome the Government's overall intentions in producing the new circular. We especially welcome the intention: to address under-provision by significantly increasing the number of sites, to protect the traditional lifestyle of Gypsies and Travellers, to avoid them becoming unintentionally homeless, to provide equality of access to accommodation, education, health and welfare provisions, to allow and encourage more private sites. and to work towards sustainable integrated communities. CARJ recognises the extreme difficulties that were caused to Gypsy and Traveller communities when the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, 1994 repealed the statutory duty on local authorities to provide sites for them. We deeply regret that over the ensuing eleven years, the travelling community has quite literally been in perpetual motion, often forcibly moved on from one site to another. CARJ believes that every local authority should provide or facilitate the provision of accommodation for Gypsies and Travellers and supports the efforts of The Gypsy and Travellers Law Reform Coalition (G&TLRC), the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) and the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) in campaigning for the reintroduction of this statutory duty on local authorities. For this reason, we welcomed the Housing Act 2004 and the responsibility that it places on local authorities to include Gypsies and Travellers in their local needs assessments and their wider housing strategies. CARJ viewed this initiative as a positive step on the way to the re-establishment of the full statutory duty on local authorities. The proposed new circular is another positive step. We welcome the Government's general commitment in the proposed circular "to ensuring that members of the Gypsy and Traveller communities should have the same access to decent and appropriate accommodation as every other citizen and that there are sufficient sites available to meet their needs." We also welcome the specific obligations on local authorities to provide for the needs of Gypsies and Travellers in their local housing assessments and development plans. We understand that research done for the ODPM suggests that some 5,000 sites - including permanent and transitory sites - will be required over the next five years. In attempting to meet this requirement, the availability of appropriate land may be an issue. The possibility of releasing Government owned land for the development of some sites has been mooted and we would urge the ODPM to explore this possibility. We welcome the Government's intention to promote the provision of more private sites in appropriate locations. There seems to be a campaign against this proposal and we would urge the Government to resist this campaign. In principle, the Gypsy and Traveller communities have as much right to private provision as the settled community has to private housing. In practice this would be part of a many-sided strategy to find sufficient sites to meet the future need. We welcome the circular's commitment to involving Gypsies and Travellers in the planning process. Some training will be a necessary prerequisite for this to be successful. The suggestion of a National Task Force on Travellers Issues might enable this involvement to take place more easily. The wider definition of Gypsies and Travellers in the new circular, which includes those who may have ceased travelling for various reasons, is to be welcomed; but it may need further consideration if it is to be fully inclusive. The circular rightly calls attention to the need to promote 'peaceful and integrated co-existence between the site and the local community'. Perhaps more needs to be said about this. If the Government's intentions are successful and numerous additional sites are established, the relationships between communities could become a crucial issue. Lessons can be learned from local areas where good relations between Gypsies and Travellers and the settled community have been successfully established. They may also be learned from other areas where community cohesion has been an issue (eg Northern Ireland, Oldham, Burnley, Bradford, etc). It is possible that local churches could play an important role in building trust and good relationships in areas where there are Gypsy and Traveller sites. However, church communities will have to be supported if they are to play such a role. CARJ would be willing to work with Government and others in an attempt to enable local churches to play such a positive role. Margaret Ann Fisken, Chairperson Rt Reverend Kieran Conry, President The Catholic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ) is an independent Catholic charity established in 1984 to support the interests of black and minority ethnic communities and to promote community cohesion in England & Wales. CARJ is also an Agency of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales. We are regular participants in the Bishops' Travellers' Issues Working Group which brings together priests and sisters who have a direct ministry to Travelling People as well as representatives of Catholic organisations and networks which have the concerns of Travellers as part of their remit. Source: CARJ
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