A Barnet councillor attracted controversy yesterday after claiming gypsies should “stay put in Ireland”.
The often outspoken Greater London Authority member for Barnet and Camden, Brian Coleman, condemned the traveller community during a debate on the BBC’s Politics Show about the potential for increased gypsy sites across London boroughs.
It came as the Greater London Authority prepares to discuss the results of the London boroughs’ gypsy and traveller accommodation needs assessment 2008, which suggests 553 new permanent pitches are required across the capital in the next five years.
Proposals could see up to 13 sites built in the borough, and managed by Barnet Council, to match the increased demand.
But speaking on the Sunday morning show, Mr Coleman said he would not welcome “one single site” in the borough, and claimed they would not be accommodating communities that had been in the UK for decades, but instead a group of people “who offer to Tarmac your drive”.
He said: “Successive councils in Barnet, Labour-controlled and Conservative, have examined the borough thoroughly and found no suitable sites.
“I do not know any councillor of any mainstream political party who would support traveller sites in their ward.
“We’re not talking traditional gypsies here, we’re not talking about this romantic vision of gypsies in attractive caravans, we’re talking about the itinerant Irish traveller community who come over and want to resurface people's drives and repair their roofs.
“This is a commuter who comes over from Ireland looking for work that should frankly stay put in Ireland.”
Father Joe Browne, chairman of the Irish traveller movement, who was also on the panel, said there is a shortage of legal sites in London which impacts negatively on gypsy groups, and went on to condemn Mr Coleman’s comments.
“I’m shocked Brian would take that attitude,” he said.
“It’s simply unacceptable to say they should stay where they are.”
Andrew Slaughter, Labour MP for Ealing Acton and Shepherds Bush, responded on the show by branding Mr Coleman “loudmouthed” and saying the comments were “inflammatory and quite disgraceful”.
He said: “[The comments] would be completely unacceptable when talking about any other ethnic minority.”