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The Home Office plans to criminalise trespass, which would give police the power to seize vehicles and property of people found on land they do not own or have explicit permission to be on. The move has elicited strong opposition from campaigners, and even the police. Ellen Tryer, an Irish Traveller and community leader living in north Bristol, writes about what the law change would mean to Irish Travellers and Gypsies.
Illustration: Louis Wood

It’s very difficult to know a Travellers’ way of life until you live it. I live in a house now but I’ve also lived at the side of the road. I know what it’s like to be moved on.

When you move into a property maybe late at night, it’s very difficult to get set up. You’re in a 14 foot caravan, you’ve got to make sure your kids are well looked after, and you don’t get a chance if bailiffs come. They’re not fed, you chuck everything into your caravan and you’re on the road again. You could be literally on the road for three days without stopping. I always fear for the younger women and their health because of these young children.

The bailiffs used to be very rude. When I lived in a caravan, we’d travel all night and barely get our heads down. It’s a very small space and you’ve got to make sure everything’s out the way before you can stop, so if anyone comes, you’ve got to get everything back into the caravan and the kids go in the car. It was very stressful.

One morning the bailiffs came and they were just banging down our doors, kicking and slamming and shouting so loudly that the kids were screaming. They were petrified. I came to the door with my baby and asked if I could feed him first. I needed to put water on, make him a few bottles. He just said: “You effing p*kies, get out of here, you’re not supposed to be stopping here.” And that was a bit of land at the side of the road, we never broke into anyone’s property, we just pulled over.

The government never carried out what they promised. They promised they’d make sites. Maybe a few sites were made, but certainly not enough to accommodate the amount of Travelling people. There’s still not enough sites for the younger generation that’s grown up, they’re pushed outside, they have nowhere to live, and it’s causing a lot of problems with their health.

Travellers get all the worst places that nobody wants. All the sites are so far from shops and schools and people, because they’re thinking of the settled people all the time, and the settled people don’t want the Travellers or the Gypsies next to them.

They are leaving us with nowhere to go

They need to make more sites, not offer people housing if they’re a Traveller. It’d be like asking a settled person to move onto a site. It’s not their way of living so many wouldn’t know how to cope with it. Now we have a lot of Travellers living in houses. I call them little birds trapped in a cage because that’s not their own choice, that’s not the way they want to live. They’re forced into it by there not being enough sites. They’re not allowed to make their own choices in life, what they want for their children and themselves.

The government is attacking Travellers at every angle. Communication and trust is missing, because the Travellers don’t trust the government and the government is not communicating enough with the Travelling people. The government is not asking them what they want, they’re telling them what they’re going to give them. Before any laws are passed, they should get together and sit down and ask the Travelling people what they want, like they would any settled person.

They put up houses for other people so I think that Travellers are no different, they’re human beings, they have equal rights, they need to have everything everyone else has. They pay their taxes, most of them do work for themselves. Most of them want to move on and have their own traditional life. Why shouldn’t they have what they want?

The consultation on the government proposal to criminalise trespass is here and closes on 4 March. Advocacy charity, Friends Families and Travellers have got guidance on how to say no to plans to strengthen police powers here.

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  • Phien says:

    it should be mentioned the Pavee Travellers (AKA Irish Travellers) have been in the UK for over a millennium.
    The Closest point of Ireland (Ballycastle) to the UK (Mull of Kintyre) is a mere 12 miles (approx) a very short distance for ‘Travellers’ to Traverse.

  • Jennifer Kunkle-Clark says:

    Dear Ellen,
    I find the Traveller’s traditional way of life fascinating. I’m so sorry that you face so much discrimination because it’s just not fair.

  • Patrick McComisky says:

    How interesting. How do I receive further information about your long term plans and ambitions?
    Pat.

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