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Dublin: 10°C Wednesday 21 October 2020

Phil Prendergast: As a mother, I felt physically sick over Roma children mistakes

“Of course this is unlikely to happen to an Irish family – we are not subjected to the odious stereotypes that the Roma community are forced to endure,” writes the MEP for Ireland South.

Phil Prendergast MEP

I WOULD DO anything for my two boys. They’re certainly not boys any more - both are in their twenties –  but as far as I’m concerned nothing on this planet matters more than their health and happiness.

When it transpired on Wednesday evening that the Gardai had made a terrible mistake in taking the two Roma children off their respective parents I felt sick. Physically sick. If I was in both those parents’ shoes I would be hysterical, helpless and inconsolable.

They come to a different country seeking a better life and this is how our authorities treat them – taking their nearest and dearest just because the child’s skin colour is different! As someone who’s worked as a nurse and midwife for over 20 years I know that even parents with darker skin can have a blond haired child, but it’s incredible some members of the child protection unit and our hysterical tabloid press failed to realise this fact.

My Labour colleague, Deputy Ciara Conway, also pointed out via Twitter that a fair haired mother can have a dark skinned child – when she posted a photo of her beautiful daughter who is of mixed race.


This incident is a complete violation. As far we are aware, there was no indication whatsoever that either children were in danger. As a mother it’s horrifying to think this can happen, I shudder every time I picture the helpless boy and girl being taken from their frightened parents.

Of course this is unlikely to happen to an Irish family – we are not subjected to the odious stereotypes that the Roma community are forced to endure. I was appalled and upset when I watched a young Roma man talk about how he is racially abused by young Irish people on Tonight With Vincent Browne, on Thursday night.

He said he is often called hurtful names like ‘gypo’ and you could see how visibly upset he was with being tarred with this disgraceful stereotype. If he was my son, I couldn’t fathom how I would cope with this hatred.

Presently there are over six million members of the Roma community living in the EU, they remain one of the most discriminated against in the entire Union.The European Directive on Racial Equality forbids discrimination on the grounds of racial or ethnic origins. There is a responsibility to ensure that the same rights to a presumption of innocence are afforded to members of the Roma community as would be afforded to any other group of society.

We, as a nation, know how it feels to endure prejudice

What is also depressing about this week’s events is that I thought my sons represent a more liberal Ireland, free from prejudice. While I’m sure (or hope) it certainly wasn’t the intention for the relevant authorities or tabloid media to be racist,  could you imagine our revulsion if an Irish family was treated like this abroad?

We, as a nation, know all too well how it feels to endure prejudice.

When I lived in London while I was training to be a nurse in the seventies there were the infamous shop window signs which alerted patrons that ‘no Dogs, Blacks or Irish’ were allowed. Both of my sons have been lucky enough to travel further afield than London and always tell me how loved the Irish are, as we’re convivial and treat every person the same, no matter their background.

As an MEP I’m constantly telling my colleagues what a wonderful welcoming country I hail from and I was deeply dismayed when I saw this story splashed across international news outlets like The Los Angeles Times and The BBC.

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Deeply humiliated

As a healthcare professional, I winced with embarrassment when I read the international coverage the Savita Halapannavar debacle received.  Nearly 12 months since that story broke, I’m again deeply humiliated with how foreign parents are treated by a state which is supposed to protect them.

Questions need to be asked of how the media cover cases involving children.  If anything happened to my family amidst spurious tabloid stories, it would have a huge adverse effect on me psychologically. I urge any newspaper editor to think of their own son or daughter when they’re giving the green light to a story that involves a child. We have great journalists in this country but this is a week where the tabloid press needs to take an inward look at itself.  Unfortunately for some cynical hacks, the truth got in the way of a juicy story.

This whole sorry episode is a lesson to everybody in not being swept away by wild hysteria, especially when a child is involved. As a mother I believe cruelty to children is unforgivable, regardless of their background.

Phil Prendergast is an MEP for Ireland South and member of The Labour Party.

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Phil Prendergast MEP

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