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"Ethnic profiling" a factor in removal of Roma children, report finds

The Taoiseach, Minister for Justice and the interim Garda Commissioner have all apologised for what happened in the cases in Athlone and Tallaght.

Frances Fitzgerald
Frances Fitzgerald
Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Updated 23.15pm

ETHNIC PROFILING PLAYED a role in the decisions to remove Roma children from their families in two high-profile incidents last year, a report into the cases by Children’s Ombudsman Emily Logan has found.

The report, published this evening, looked at the case of a 7-year-old Roma girl who was removed from her family in Tallaght last October, and a 2-year-old boy who was taken from his family in Athlone in the same week. Both children were placed in care briefly before being returned to their families.

Speaking at the Department of Justice, Logan said that the cases fitted the definition of ethnic profiling, but stressed that there was no evidence of institutional or official ethnic profiling within An Garda Síochána.

Timelines:

“In both cases I would say that there wasn’t a reasonable or objective reason for the action taken except that the children did not look like their parents,” Logan said.

If you apply that to an Irish family that’s one thing. If you apply it to a Roma family — that’s part of what the problem is: it wasn’t just that the children were blonde and blue-eyed it was that they were from Roma families and they didn’t look like their Roma families.

Athlone case: ‘Child A’

The report found that the member of the public who raised concerns about the child in Athlone last October was heavily influenced by media reporting of the case of ‘Maria’ — the blonde, blue-eyed girl who had been found living with a Roma family in Greece.

It concluded: 

  • The email sent to local gardaí outlining the concerns should have been acted on, but its contents should have been evaluated more critically by officers. 
  • While there was a slight delay in the boy’s parents producing the family’s birth certificates, the negative inference attributed to the delay was not warranted. 
  • The readiness to believe that Child A may have been abducted exceeded the evidence available to officers and was inextricably linked to the fact that the child’s family is Roma. 
  • There was nothing to suggest the child was being harmed or mistreated: there was no strong reason for gardaí to call to the family’s home on the evening of 22 October. 
  • Doubts that officers had about the boy’s identity should have been put to rest as soon as they were informed by his father that the child had albinism. 
  • DNA testing was not a proportionate measure to apply when there was a significant amount of other information available to prove the relationship between the child and his parents.

Tallaght case: ‘Child T’

The international coverage of the ‘Maria’ case also played a part in influencing what happened before gardaí called to the house of the 7-year-old girl in Tallaght on 21 October last, the report found.

It concluded: 

  • Gardaí weren’t presented with any information which would suggest or support a conclusion of child abduction. All that was conveyed to them was a suggestion – based on an erroneous view of the Maria case – that Child T had been abducted, based on the fact that she was blonde and had blue eyes. 
  • Again, the concerns set out to gardaí should have been evaluated far more critically. 
  • The birth certificate produced for Child T confirmed the details provided initially by the family regarding the location and the date of her birth. However, the sergeant who responded did not believe it was genuine because the Coombe Hospital had undertaken a search of its records and didn’t find an entry to match the details provided.
  • The error on the part of the hospital was highly unfortunate: having received this inaccurate information, it was reasonable for the officer to doubt the authenticity of the birth certificate.
  • More substantial enquiries could have been undertaken regarding the child’s identity prior to any contact being made with the family.
  • Again, the use of DNA testing in the case represented a disproportionate interference with the family members’ private life.
  • Sensitive information regarding Child T entered the media inappropriately on the morning of 22 October. On the balance of probabilities, the information in question came from someone within the gardaí.

Apologies

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, and Garda Commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan have all apologised to the families of two children.

Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon, Kenny said ”this should not have happened to this family, or any other family, in this jurisdiction”.

Minister Fitzgerald said she apologised on behalf of the state, adding:

“It happened out of a determination to protect children, but that determination got skewed.

The best of intentions played out in a distressing manner affecting two children and two families…

Commissioner O’Sullivan said that “hurt was experienced”:

 And it’s important, not just to apologise on behalf of the police service, but to express the concerns of each of our members over what happened. Because we in An Garda Síochána are all about protecting vulnerable children. We really are.

Recommendations

The events undermined an “already fragile trust between the Roma community and State agencies,” the report found.

It notes that the Tallaght child’s family were offered support from the HSE afterwards but turned it down “because of an understandable lack of trust”.

The report states: 

  • The Government must develop support and advocacy services to mediate between members of the Roma community and State agencies.
  • Cultural competence within An Garda Síochána with respect to the Roma community must be enhanced.
  • An Garda Síochána should develop a protocol on the exercise of powers under section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991 (which states that an officer can remove a child from their parents/guardians if they believe there is an immediate danger to the child).
  • The gardaí should develop a national model for child protection.
  • The force should should have enhanced access to information held by both the Child and Family Agency and the Health Service Executive with respect to children whose identities are called into question.

The Commissioner said the force would act speedily to  implement the recommendations in the Ombudsman’s Report within its control.

Originally published 4.02pm. Additional reporting, Christine Bohan.

Read: Family still don’t know where Roma boy (2) was kept overnight by HSE > 

Read: Children’s Ombudsman to release report into removal of Roma children from families > 

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