Catholic and Anglican bishops visited one of the largest Travellers site in Europe last week. Bishop Thomas McMahon from Brentwood Diocese and Bishop Laurie Green of Bradwell, paid a pastoral visit to the Dale Farm Travellers’ site near Basildon, with Sr Catherine Reilly and Wickford parish priest Fr Dan Mason, who minister to many of the familes.
The threat of eviction is hanging over half the site and the two Bishops were keen to talk to residents about their situation. While they were there, they both prayed with the bereaved family of John Flynn, a leading campaigner in the battle to remain at the site, who died suddenly earlier in the week. Prior to the visit, the two churchmen toured the local Crays Hill Primary School, which is attended by many of the Traveller children. The Bishops, who were very impressed by the commitment and enthusiasm of staff at the school, talked to some of the children and listened to them read.
“We are particularly concerned that breaking up this long-standing community and its way of life will be a serious trauma for the children, who have stability and support at the excellent Crays Hill Primary School,” said Bishop Thomas.
He also praised the Travellers' strong faith. Each family keeps a shrine where they pray regularly. “It is certainly a privilege in our ministry,” commented Bishop Laurie, “to support the Traveller community and to work for more understanding on all sides. We really enjoyed the company of such lovely children and we will be keeping Crays Hill School, the children and their families very much in our prayers.”
Bishop Thomas added: “Alongside the humanitarian concerns, we have to ask if an extremely expensive operation to evict the Travellers is a good use of public money in these straitened times.”
Essex police say the cost of policing an eviction at Dale Farm could be as much as ten million pounds.
Although the Travellers bought the land more than ten years ago, they were never granted planning permission for permanent residence there.
Source: Grattan Paxton/Pilgrim Catholic/ICN