A group representing the Traveller community has branded new legislation designed to control unauthorised encampments as "using a sledgehammer to crack a nut".

Margaret Donaghy, spokeswoman for the Traveller Movement Northern Ireland, said Travellers had nowhere to park.

"If there was somewhere for them to go they would go," she said.

Ms Donaghy called for more short-stay sites to be provided for the members of the Travelling community.

She said it was not time to bring in legislation but "time to bring in the provisions".

Ms Donaghy was responding to the announcement by Social Development Minister John Spellar that legislation controlling unauthorised encampments had entered its final consultation phase.

"Unauthorised encampments are set up in various parts of Northern Ireland, " Mr Spellar said.

"Very often they involve members of the Traveller community, but there are also problems with tourists who refuse to use the facilities provided for them and with visitors attending sporting events, such as the North West 200."

"These encampments have long been a cause of complaint from the public and from elected representatives, and existing legislation in Northern Ireland has proved to be ineffective in dealing with this problem."

Mr Spellar said the new laws would give police powers "to deal with this nuisance effectively".

The Equality Commission has also raised concerns about the proposed legislation.

Its chief commissioner, Dame Joan Harbison, said the government should not press ahead with the legislation while "adequate accommodation for Travellers has not been made available".

"The reality is that the proposed law will have a disproportionate impact on Travellers and, by criminalising unauthorised camping, it will reinforce the widespread social exclusion already experienced by that community, " she said.

"It is therefore essential that the programme of work to provide appropriate transit sites, mentioned by the minister, is implemented immediately and effectively and until that is done there is no point in moving Travellers from one unserviced, unofficial site to another."

But Mr Spellar said it was clear from an earlier consultation exercise "that there is strong support in the community" for the proposed law.

"Fourteen district councils from right across Northern Ireland, representing various shades of local political opinion, responded to the consultation and all were strongly in favour of the proposals, " Mr Spellar said.

He said he was aware of "concerns expressed during the consultation about availability of sites for the Traveller community".

"For this reason I have decided to proceed with legislation in parallel with the development of specific alternative accommodation for Travellers, " he said.

The Housing Executive and councils were working together "to determine the need for transit sites to cater for the needs of nomadic Travellers", Mr Spellar added.

"Following this, a programme of work to provide transit sites will be drawn up and prioritised in accordance with the identified need."