Letters: Travellers

Traveller lifestyle is not a right

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The Independent Online

Thomas Hammarberg's article (Opinion, 1 March) gives human rights a bad name and potentially valuable European institutions a bad press.

If forbidding people to live how they like on "land they own" is a violation of human rights, then the whole concept of planning regulation is a violation of human rights. If Travellers have a right to pitch caravans where they like and demand councils provide sites then, as an ethnic Stay-Put, I have an equal right to buy land and build housing anywhere of my own choosing. I have no such right and neither do Travellers.

Notions of ethnicity and religion can be used to dress up lifestyle choices as absolute needs that others can be made to bend over backwards to fulfil.

In the Dale Farm case, the relevant councils have offered to fulfil their obligations to provide adequate housing. A right to adequate housing is not a right to live how you please, where you please.

If the Council for Europe Commissioner for Human Rights is unable to put a lid on such costly rights inflations then I regret that we really would be best off out of such a madhouse.

Dan Allen

Crawley, West Sussex

Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, calls on Eric Pickles to end the "disgrace of Dale Farm". In so doing he makes a number of unhelpful and misleading comments regarding Basildon Council's treatment of the illegal traveller settlement of Dale Farm.

Travellers in the UK are afforded the exact same human rights as any other citizen. They are also expected to obey the law in the same way as any other citizen. Dale Farm was illegally developed by a group of travellers on green-belt land. For 10 years while the council sought to negotiate a peaceful and reasonable solution the travellers continued to flout the law and expand the site until it reached its peak size of over 80 families and almost 400 people.

Clearance was a last resort which the council was forced into after exhausting the legal process. A time came when talking had to stop and the law of the UK had to be upheld.

The council accepts that it will need to provide additional pitches to cater for the growth of the traveller population who live legally in the borough and it will work with the travellers to do this. But the travellers need to follow due process and recognise, as Mr Justice Ouseley said in the recent High Court case, that the criminal law applies to them as well as everyone else.

Basildon Council already provides 113 legal traveller pitches – more than almost anywhere else in the country.

Cllr Tony Ball

Leader, Basildon Council, Essex


It is far from evident that housing so-called Travellers on caravan sites is in the best interests of those who would like to live in such ghettos. A study by local authorities in West Surrey in 2006 showed that the residents of such sites have poor health and education, and live mainly on income support.

Many Gypsies have chosen to live in "bricks and mortar" accommodation and have settled successfully into the community. The way to overcome prejudice is by integration, not segregation.

We must hope that Eric Pickles will ignore Mr Hammarberg's well-meaning but misguided appeal.

J Perry

London W12


Tonge's critics disregard the obvious

Jenny Tonge's main offence (Howard Jacobson, 3 March) was being a member of a party for whom principle is a dirty word.

Jacobson's suggestion that Jenny Tonge's statement of the obvious, that Israel will not continue much longer "in its present form", is genocidal is nothing more than the projection of Jacobson's own Zionist fantasies. Or maybe the destruction of the apartheid state of South Africa was also genocidal?

What Jenny Tonge stated merely reflected what former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had stated, that a failure to eradicate racism against its own Arab citizens and to reach a solution over the occupied territories spelt its end. To most people bar the pundits, it is a statement of the bleeding obvious.

States, unlike human beings, have no right to exist. What Jenny Tonge was saying, if we pierce through the layers of punditry, is that a state which treats its Arab citizens as guests, which deprives the Palestinians of the occupied territories of any democratic rights, which prevents its own Arab citizens from renting 93 per cent of Jewish "national" land and forbids them to marry Arabs from neighbouring countries, is not a state destined to last.

Nick Clegg's act of cowardice in jumping first and asking questions later is shameful. Jenny Tonge is well shot of the Lib Dems.

Tony Greenstein



A woman of impeccable liberal credentials once told me, during a brief conversation on Israel, that we couldn't "go on feeling sorry for the Jews" just because they were once treated so badly. Attacking Israel is an activity which creates an interesting alliance between those on the self-righteous wing of the liberal left and those on the rabid right.

What is troubling is that the outrage expressed about Israel's behaviour is so selective. In the same edition as Jacobson's piece, your letters page carried, as headline letters, the first significant criticism of a Middle Eastern state that I have noticed for the several weeks in which Syria has been slaughtering its civilians in their thousands. They were attacking Israel!

Hugh Hetherington

Sandwich, Kent


It is sad that such an intelligent writer as Howard Jacobson has put on steel-capped boots to join the playground bullies in kicking Jenny Tonge. His piece on Saturday will have its intended effect: no politician who wants a career will dare to say what Israel is actually doing in the occupied territories.

Israel acts with complete disregard for human rights and international law. This may not ultimately be in Israel's own best interests.

Sally FitzHarris

London SW8


Ten years married is just the start

On 21 February, Terence Blacker's article was headed "Marriage rarely lasts for life – so how about vows fixed to 10 years?" Alas, too many couples seem not to have thought things out before getting married.

Fewer than half of all marriages end before death, and one object of marriage is to look after any resulting children. Ten years seems to be a particularly inappropriate period for a marriage.

I write as one lucky enough to have had 69 years of marriage. Well, perhaps not just luck; but having had a lot of tolerance, forgiveness, forbearance and love from the one who, when I asked her if we should get engaged, first said "Yes, please"; and, then, when asked if she wanted to think it over, replied: "I already have."

Sir Reginald E W Harland

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk


Terence Blacker writes that marriage rarely lasts for life and suggests vows fixed to 10 years. To couples who are looking forward to marriage in a spirit of hope, our advice is: go for it! A marriage not only can last a lifetime, but, to invoke the familiar analogy, like good wine, it improves with age. We have been married to each other for over 34 years. When we were 10 years married, we were still getting to know each other.

Stephen King

Lucille King

Robertsbridge, East Sussex


England holds its own in maths

In your article on Gove's plan to make GCSEs and A-levels harder you repeat his claim that Britain is "sliding down the international league tables which measure English, maths and science performance" (22 February).

England's performance on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study is stable, remaining at around 5th to 7th place compared with other countries. On the other major international study, PISA, England's position has again remained steady on the most recent tests.

Gove's claim is based on comparison with figures from 2000. However, the PISA researchers later stated that the figures from the UK were unreliable that year due to sample bias.

Dr Mark Boylan

Mathematics Education Centre, Sheffield Hallam University


Like many people I am very concerned that British children are slipping more and more behind in terms of their educational prowess, when compared with their peers from other countries. I am a teacher, have taught in both France and England and was a school pupil in Belgium and the Netherlands.

In my experience, children of all nationalities go to school mainly to be with their friends. In continental Europe, those who have failed to master the subject matter taught in a particular year have to repeat it. They lose their friends and have to spend an extra year in school to get a meaningful qualification. Believe me, as a strategy for improving standards in education, it works.

Hermance Gush-Aits



Don't boo the director

To suggest, as does Sandra Simkin (letter, 5 March), that directors and designers should adhere to Wagner's detailed stage directions is absurd. These were conceived in another technical and artistic age. The role of modern artists is to try to re-imagine them for modern audiences while seeking to do justice to the masterpieces they are portraying.

Sometimes they get this right, sometimes they don't, but in the vast majority of cases what is produced is an honest attempt at artistic invention. To boo artists in such circumstances is boorish and ignorant. If members of opera audiences feel the need to boo, they should go to Stamford Bridge and boo Roman Abramovich instead. That at least would be constructive.

Michael Dempsey

London E1


Compassion comes naturally

Dr Mehmood H Mir may speak only in the context of care for the elderly (letter, 2 March), but he is wrong in claiming that compassion does not come naturally to people.

It is a gift given to many, both sexes and age groups, from the person who runs to help someone who has fallen or a taxi driver who takes a mugging victim to the hospital, to the ordinary individual who sets up a charity, and all those volunteers who help in disaster areas all over the world and who speak up for the natural world.

Evelyn Ross



The dolphin definition

Katherine Perlo (letter, 5 March) suggests that the reason the definition of murder does not include dolphins is that it was framed by humans. Perhaps when dolphins publish their first dictionary they may widen the definition. On the other hand they might decide it includes only dolphins.

William Roberts



They do get it really

Jonathan Poole (letter, 29 February) suggests that bankers "just don't get it". I suspect that they get much more of it than most other people, and if they get much more there will be little or nothing left for the rest of us.

Bill Fletcher

Cirencester, Gloucestershire