AFTER TWO CHILDREN were taken from their Roma families over concerns about their identity, Minister Alan Shatter has said gardaí acted in good faith.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter TD, said that there has been understandable public interest in the two cases.
“I am pleased and relieved that the concerns that arose on the part of the authorities in these two cases proved to be unfounded and that the children have been reunited with their families,” he said
He spoke of how we “must all be particularly conscious of the regrettable distress that arose for the two families and their children” and that “no fault of any nature attaches to the two families concerned”.
He has asked that the social services provide any support or assistance needed by the families in helping them cope following the events.
The Minister said that it is not the practice of Ministers to comment on details of individual child protection cases and it would be wrong to depart from that because of the particular circumstances of these cases.
However, he said he thinks it is important to make a number of points:
An Garda Síochána and the HSE have to deal with very difficult situations and have to make very difficult decisions when dealing with issues of child protection. They can be open to criticism for either doing something or doing nothing. In the past, for example, the authorities have been criticised for not intervening to protect children at risk. In each of these cases, the Gardaí responded in good faith to concerns expressed to them.
The law provides clear powers for An Garda Síochána where it is believed that a child may be in danger. The Health Service Executive and the Courts are involved in making the appropriate decisions. Urgent procedures are available to ensure that the safety of a child can be assured while necessary inquiries are being made. While such procedures can be understandably distressing for parents, the reality is that not invoking the procedures can involve taking a risk with the safety of a child if you don’t act on the basis of the information that is available at the time.
The Gardaí keep their practices under continuous review in the light of their experiences in this very complex area. Everybody should be assured that their entire motivation is to ensure that the best interests of a child are treated as paramount and that is as it should be.
“It is, of course, important to ascertain whether any lessons can be learned from these cases and that is why I have asked for a full report on the background circumstances that led to each of these children being taken into care and the procedures that were followed. It is important that any lessons which might be learned do not detract in any way from the willingness and preparedness of the authorities to take appropriate action when they believe that children are at risk.
“People should of course report to the authorities any reasonable concerns which they have about the safety of children. However, in seeking to ensure that the welfare of children is safeguarded and that every child in this State is afforded, where necessary, the protection of the State, it is important that no group or minority community is singled out for unwarranted attention, or, indeed, suspicion in relation to child protection issues.”
Also this evening, An Garda Síochána released a statement saying:
Protecting vulnerable children is of paramount importance to An Garda Síochána and we continue to work in partnership with the HSE and other agencies to ensure children’s safety.
An Garda Síochána has a published and comprehensive policy which remains under constant review into the investigation of sexual crime, crimes against children and child welfare, which provides for an effective and coherent approach to the investigation of this sensitive and challenging area.
An Garda Siochana want to assure the community that we take extremely serious all reports received from members of the public concerning child welfare issues. In all cases immediate steps are taken to protect the welfare of the child in accordance with relevant statutory provisions and obligations.
Earlier this evening, it was confirmed that a seven-year-old girl who had been taken into care due to queries over her identity was related to the couple she lived with.
The Roma girl, who had blonde hair and blue eyes, was taken into HSE care on Monday afternoon after gardaí acted on a tip-off.
Following the release of DNA results, the girl was returned to her family.
A second case involved a two-year-old boy in Athlone who was also taken into HSE care until officers were satisfied he had been living with his real family.