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Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Column Ireland’s child protection policy seems guided by medieval fairy tales

What we’ve seen happen to Roma families in Ireland this is week is something we all would like to think disappeared centuries ago – a witch-hunt.

THE MOST SHOCKING aspect of the Roma children scandal is that that Ireland’s child protection policy seems guided by medieval fairy tales.

The childcatcher, the bogeyman and the ‘the man’ all are used by frustrated parents to frighten children to behave. “The bogeyman will come and take you away if you don’t go to sleep” was a regular parental tool in many an Irish household as I grew up.

Unlike these anonymous fictional demons, the Roma are real and now scattered throughout Europe, thereby providing a face as ‘the villain’.

Maria the ‘Blonde Angel’

The emergence of this debacle is extraordinary.

Two weeks ago the campaign for information on the disappearance of blonde-haired blue-eyed girl Madeline Mc Cann was re-launched. A week later ‘Maria’, a blonde-haired blue-eyed girl was discovered living with a Roma family in Greece who turned out not to be her biological parents.

The discovery triggered sensationalist headlines about Madeline being found or speculation that she was kidnapped by Roma. Immediately ever child abductor had a face, a personality and more so an ethnicity – the Roma.

One week later a Facebook message is sent to a TV3 crime reporter.

The message originated from an eastern European individual who after ‘alerting’ the reporter to the presence of a “little girl…..she is blond and blue eyes” noted that “I am from [redacted] and it’s a big problem there missing kids. The Romas robing them to get child benefit in Europe (sic)”

The reporter then contacted An Garda.

The child just didn’t look ‘Roma’ enough

Quickly a dozen Gardai converged on a house in Tallaght and within a couple of hours by mis-interpreting or ignoring child protection legislation took the child from her home and into State care.

The evidence against the family appears solely that the child just didn’t look quite ‘Roma’ enough.

As this news emerged and online media opened up their comments a collective casting off of any logic emerged across the internet. Vitriolic comments based on zero evidence, reports or even real life experiences were posted. The most popular/liked comments were the most extreme.

Posters threw around shocking aspersions which served to paint a damning picture of the Roma community as being a group of serial kidnappers, mass murders, sex slave traders and child tortures. The few brave posters who argued against this ethnic vilification were red-thumbed out of the hysterical online dialogue.

The commonality in these widely praised readers’ comments was the immediate conformity to the stereotype of the ‘children-snatching Roma’. A stereotype, which according to one of the world leading academics on Roma culture, Professor Thomas Acton is undeserved, as he “knows of no documented case of Roma/Gypsies/Travellers stealing non-Gypsy children anywhere.”

My own experiences

I spent five years living in Eastern Europe during the 1990s, 12 months of which were in a children’s home in rural Romania. The majority of the children were of Roma origin. Some of the children’s mothers were living nearby but due to extreme poverty, mental health or addiction issues gave up their child to be housed, fed and schooled by charity and the Romanian state.

The Romanian authorities strongly discouraged the mothers from seeing their children in the institutions and weren’t supportive on promoting contact. Yet during the summer when out walking with the kids, these same mothers would follow us from a distance just to get a look at their child. They would stop us and ask whether their child was eating well, whether they were clothed ok, and whether they could now read. But the one question that floored us all was the tearfully asked “does she ask for mama?” In most cases the child had been dropped in as a baby and, aged five or six, had little concept of ‘mama’.

The witch-hunt

It was clear to me from my time in Romania and later in the Balkans that the Roma value family and children above all else. The idea that they maim their own children to enhance their begging ‘value’ or go around stealing babies which they raise in a loving manner to then sell into labour or sexual slavery is, for me, beyond preposterous.

What we have seen in Ireland over this week is a terrifying glimpse at something we all would like to think disappeared centuries ago – the witch-hunt.

Unlike the past, this was not ignorant peasants with pitchforks but statutory agency personnel with PhDs, encouraged by a mainstream media and a public that replaced their pitchforks with their iPads.

Killian Forde is the CEO of The Integration Centre, Ireland’s only national organisation focusing on Integration policy.

Read: Bulgarian woman undergoes DNA test in ‘Maria’ case

Read: HSE child services chief to meet with Garda Commissioner on Roma cases

Read: Roma child incidents result of ‘pure, raw, naked, poisonous racism’

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