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Tough new legislation passed against Travellers who trespass

THE Dail passed a new law last night to outlaw illegal Traveller encampments.

By an overwhelming majority of 107 to 17 TDs approved a tough new approach to Travellers who trespass on private or public land, destroying amenities and spreading rubbish.

The new law means gardai:

* Can demand the names of trespassers and order them to leave.

* Can arrest without warrant anyone refusing to comply.

* Can remove caravans or equipment and charge for their return or sell them if not claimed.

A fine of up to Euro3,000, one month in prison, or both, can be imposed on conviction of an offence.

Travellers staged an angry protest outside the Dail while the legislation was being debated. David Joyce, of the Irish Traveller Movement, said the new laws would criminalise up to 1,200 Travellers in temporary accommodation throughout the country.

"This takes away the obligation on local authorities to provide accommodation for Travellers," he said. "They have provided only 111 of the 2,200 accommodation units promised since 1996."

Mr Joyce insisted the amendment was a reaction to the situation which arose on the banks of the Dodder in south Dublin last summer.

"The minister is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut," he said. "The Litter Act should have been used to deal with the minority of people who treated the Dodder as a dumping ground."

A crowd of 150 people, some from as far away as Donegal, heard Martin Collins of Pavee Point say he was fuming at the way the minister had introduced the legislation.

"Traveller organisations have spent three years working with the department and were not consulted on this," he said. "The dishonest and deceiving way this was brought in makes a mockery of the consultative process."

Mary O'Donoghue, of the National Traveller Women's Forum, told the protesters they would no longer have the right to argue the point with council officials who wanted to move them on.

The Department of the Environment said the new measure was not aimed exclusively at Travellers. A spokesman said Traveller organisations on the National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee were asked in November for suggestions on how to deal with the difficulties which arose last summer, but no response was received. He also said 350 Traveller households had been provided with accommodation in the past year.

The amendment to The Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 gives the Garda powers to arrest anyone who refuses to move a dwelling or animal found improperly on land when directed to do so.

The offence which was brought in under the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill was opposed by Labour, the Socialist Party and Sinn Fein but welcomed by Fine Gael.

Labour TD Eamon Gilmore opposed the amendment, but agreed that there were such problems, particularly during the summer months where in some cases they demand payments to leave.

Fine Gael TD Olivia Mitchell said the legislation was not about the accommodation of Travellers, but the need to address a practical problem of "the relatively new phenomenon of Travellers who have accommodation, moving elsewhere to carry out business - and for the most part, engaging in appalling degradation of the environment".

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