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Dublin: 12 °C Saturday 16 February, 2019
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What happened when two Roma children were taken from their families?

A garda was arrested today over leaks to the media in the case.

Blonde girl taken from gypsy family Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

IT EMERGED THIS morning that a senior garda had been arrested for leaking information about two children who were temporarily removed from their families in late 2013.

The two children, a two-year-old boy from Athlone and a seven-year-old girl from Tallaght, were both members of the Roma community.

They were removed from their homes over concerns that the families they were staying with were not their biological families. In both cases, it was eventually determined that their parents were indeed were their biological parents.

In the case of Child T (Tallaght), DNA testing was used to prove parentage.

A report by the Children’s Ombudsman found that “ethnic profiling” was a factor in removal of Roma children.

Here’s what happened and why a garda has now been arrested:

Tallaght

In October 2013, a news story was making global headlines about a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl who had been found living with a Roma family in Greece.

The story prompted a woman living in Tallaght to contact a journalist through his TV show’s Facebook page over concerns she had about a blonde-haired girl living with a Roma family in the locality.

File Photo A senior garda officer has been arrested as part of an investigation into the unlawful disclosure of information to the media. The investigation began last year following a report by the former Children's Ombudsman Emily Logan into the removal Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

The journalist passed his concerns onto local gardaí who began to look into the matter. One garda was aware of ‘Child T’ because he had previously been assigned to one of her sisters.

Gardaí spoke to the principal at the Child T’s school and to the Department of Social Welfare. It emerged that the girl was officially registered under a different first name.

The confusion meant gardaí decided to visit the child’s home.

Upon visiting, they spoke to the parents and saw the seven-year-old with one garda officer commenting that she was was “strikingly different in appearance” from the rest of her family.

The mother of the child could not provide a birth certificate for the child. Gardaí contacted the Coombe Hospital where, again, there was confusion surrounding the child’s name.

Other family members and more gardai arrived in the interim.

roma greece Child found with Roma family in Greece in 2013. Source: AP Photo.

A passport and birth certificate were then provided for Child T but gardai concluded that they were not sufficient because they could not be corroborated by the Coombe.

A decision was taken to place the child in the care of the HSE.

The following day, the Sunday World revealed that gardai were investigating the true identity of the girl.

The story became national news and DNA tests were ordered on the young child and her family.

Two days after the child was taken from her home, DNA tests confirmed her identity and she was returned to her family.

PastedImage-28170 Tallaght Garda Station in west Dublin. Source: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Timelines:

Athlone

In the case of the two-year-old boy in Athlone, previous concerns had been raised about the child a number of months previous.

A member of the public had raised concerns with the gardaí after seeing the child with “very blonde hair and the bluest eyes” with the family at a festival in Clare.

As the Maria story was making headlines, An Garda Síochána’s Missing Persons Bureau received an email tiled “Suspected Child Abduction” again mentioning the festival in Co Clare.

Gardaí tracked down the family and the case was transferred to Athlone Garda Station. Local gardaí made enquiries and visited the family.

As with the case in Tallaght, there were issues with gardaí verifying the birth certificate of the child in question, Child A. Certificates were provided but gardaí felt there were discrepancies.

The parents of the child agreed to come voluntarily to Athlone Garda Station.

Section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991 was enacted given a perceived flight risk. The child was then placed in the care of foster parents but was reported to be crying for his mother. He stayed with them overnight.

The following day, after the the child’s GP, Barnardos, and the HSE all agreed there were no doubts over the child’s parentage, he was returned to them.

PastedImage-45023 Emily Logan's report was highly critical of garda handling of the case. Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

“Ethnic profiling”

A report by the former Children’s Ombudsman Emily Logan made a range of recommendations into the handling of the both cases.

Each case were critically evaluated separately and were given their own set of recommendations.

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

The report also stated that An Garda Síochána must enhance its “cultural competence” in dealing with the Roma community.

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

Opinion: Prejudice and hysteria caused two Roma children to be taken from their families >

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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