Leeds GATE

Working to improve the quality of life for Gypsies and Travellers

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Cllr Finnigan won't silence our work to support peace among neighbours

Helen Jones's picture
By Helen Jones |  June 26, 2014 |

Councillor Finnigan of Morley Independents has chosen to take to his blog to call Leeds GATE the ‘Thought Police’.  His comments appear to be prompted by two things; one his misunderstanding of our purpose and response to the current Traveller site planning application in Morley; and secondly an ongoing formal complaint from ourselves and a national representative organisation – The Traveller Movement - to Leeds City Council suggesting that Councillor Finnigan’s actions may contravene equalities legislation.

Let’s start with the site application. Cllr Finnigan has formed the view that Leeds GATE supports the current Morley site application.  At no time and in no manner has Leeds GATE or any of its representatives expressed support for the proposal to build a large Gypsy and Traveller site near to Morley railway station.  If readers are interested why we have not supported it – we think it is too large (even at the reduced 35 pitches), poorly designed (large numbers of families using shared sanitary facilities).  We are also concerned about the contamination of the ground due to it previously having been an oil refinery and that might not be effectively remedied.  As with many of Cllr Finnigan’s comments, he is making assumptions about the role and purpose of our little organisation without reference to evidence.

Similarly the accusation on the most recent blog that Leeds GATE are ‘apologists for bad behaviour’ begs the question ‘On what evidence?’ Just to be very clear we do not condone or apologise for bad behaviour no matter what the ethnic background of the perpetrators.  Neither will accusations that we do silence our attempts to support people from different backgrounds to live together in peace.

And so to the ‘thought police’ accusation; Leeds GATE and Traveller Movement remain extremely concerned at the rhetoric used by Cllr Finnigan before and after a public meeting in response to the site application.  For example this:

“With Cottingley Springs on our doorstep and several small family sites across the Greater Morley Area - we are doing our bit to accommodate the Traveller burden. Other areas need to take their fair share and not dump the problem on Morley Folk for them to solve!”

It’s relatively simple to insert another ethnic of minority identity in place of the word Traveller in the statement to highlight how unacceptable this comment is and surmise that it may amount to an attempt to stir up hatred against that minority group. Cllr Finnigan’s comments, which imply that ALL Travellers are problematic as neighbours, has caused great offence to Gypsy and Traveller people living in Morley and has led to an upsurge in reports of race hate incidents against Gypsy and Traveller people, particularly young people in schools. This is what prompted us to lodge a complaint. Far from GATE acting as the thought police Cllr Finnigan's extreme statements are a cheap and lazy attempt to cut down anyone who dares to disagree with his anti-Traveller standpoint.

Cllr Finnigan has written in his blog that our complaint was bogus.  This is highly offensive. The word ‘bogus’ is defined as meaning something that is fake or part of an attempt to deceive.  Our concerns that Cllr Finnigan’s comments are likely to stir up hatred are in no way fake or an attempt to deceive.  They are an attempt to remind Cllr Finnigan that with democratic power comes civic responsibility.  All councillors are required to attempt to represent the interests of all persons who are resident in their ward. Cllr Finnigan states on his blog that his objections to the Morley planning applications are ‘both planning and community’.  The only valid objection to a planning application, the only objection that can be considered by a planning officer, panel, or enquiry, are objections based solely on planning law and policy.  We would be very grateful if, in future, Cllr Finnigan would accordingly consider his comments and avoid language which vilifies or demonises people on the basis of their race, as we are all required to do in UK law.

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