Northern Ireland

Attempt to remove Travellers from leisure centre car park breaches their right to a ‘nomadic lifestyle’

Mid Ulster Council is seeking the right of eviction

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Legal attempts to evict Travellers from a leisure centre car park breach their rights to a home and nomadic lifestyle, the High Court has been told.

Mid Ulster District Council is seeking an order for the removal of a caravan currently on the site in Magherafelt, Co Derry.

But lawyers for those occupying the land alleged a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

“It is an interference with a right to private and family life insofar as it amounts to an interference with the way of life of Irish Travellers,” barrister Malachy McGowan argued.

“If it is not considered their home it would effectively eradicate their right to a nomadic existence.”

Mid Ulster Council has applied for possession of the site on the basis that the Travellers are staying there unlawfully.

A judge was told the busy car park is used by members of the public attending Magherafelt Leisure Centre and staff at neighbouring schools.

Andrew Brown, for the local authority, said: “The occupants have no legal right to be there, they have been asked to leave and they have refused.”

During the hearing it emerged that the Traveller family on the site plans to mount a judicial review challenge against the attempts to have them evicted.

Mr McGowan accepted his clients do not have lawful possession of the land.

However, amid claims there is nowhere else in the area for them to go, he insisted any illegal occupation was outweighed by their fundamental right to a home under Article 8.

Asked how the car park could be classed as a home, counsel replied: “The defendant is living on site, their caravan is parked on the site and it is where they reside.”

Requesting an adjournment because of the planned judicial review, Mr McGowan told the court the Travellers should be allowed to remain in the car park temporarily.

“It is the right to a home and way of life, balanced against the need to not reduce car parking spaces in the area,” he said.

Mr Brown countered that the Council is entitled to possession of its property.

The barrister told the court:  “It is not a piece of land in the corner of Magherafelt… or a beauty spot which is not frequently used.

“It’s a leisure centre car park.. and we have an immediate use for this land.”

Rejecting claims of unlawful discrimination against the Travellers, Mr Brown emphasised: “There is no issue with the occupants using the leisure centre, using the gym, showering and leaving.

Mr Justice Huddleston adjourned the hearing.