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Pavee Point calls for full independent review into Roma child cases

The group is calling on the Government to set up a full independent review of how state authorities acted, after two children were removed, then returned to their families.

Tallaght Garda Station
Tallaght Garda Station
Image: Photocall Ireland

PAVEE POINT, WHICH represents the Traveller and Roma communities in Ireland, is calling on Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald, to establish an independent review of the actions of the gardaí and the HSE, following two cases in recent days in which children were taken from their families.

A 7-year-old girl in Tallaght was removed from her family for over 48 hours, after gardaí called to the family home on Monday, following reports that a blonde, blue-eyed girl was seen living at the address.

Her parents were initially unable to prove the child’s identity, and she was taken into HSE care. DNA results proved yesterday that the young girl was related to the family, and she was returned.

In a separate but similar case, a 2-year-old boy was taken from his family in Athlone on Tuesday night. His father was told the following morning that gardaí were satisfied the boy was living with his biological family, and the toddler was picked up and taken home.

Both incidents follow last week’s discovery of a young blonde girl found living with a Roma family in the central Greek town of Farsala. That case generated international headlines, and sparked thousands of calls to a Greek charity about the child’s possible origins.

“Last resort”

In a strongly worded statement, Pavee Point says it’s “disturbed that there have been two recent cases of young Roma children being removed from their families as a matter of first resort and not as a matter of last resort that would normally be the case in all but the most extreme child protection cases”.

The group calls on Minister Fitzgerald to “intervene immediately to ensure that state authorities involved in child protection in Ireland and acting from the highest possible standards are not contravening national and international human rights in respect of families and children in general and specifically the Roma community in Ireland and their children”.

We would ask the review to consider:

1. What evidence did child authorities have that justified their decision to remove Roma children from their families and was this evidence sufficient for authorities to act in such haste?

2. Why were children removed from their families as a measure of first rather than last resort?

3. Is there a danger that racial profiling and recent international media discourse influenced the actions of state authorities?

The statement continues: “Many Roma children are in an extremely vulnerable situation and living  in poverty due to State policies and social welfare restrictions.

“There is an onus on the state to protect all of these vulnerable children and we call on the State to be pro-active in their response to the needs of these children.”

Pavee Point says its concerned such incidents will fuel racism against members of the Roma community living in Ireland.

“Good faith”

Justice Minister Alan Shatter has asked for a full report on the circumstances that led to each of these children being taken into care and the procedures that were followed.

In a statement issued last night, he says the gardaí 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.

Later, he says 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”.

Read: Child removed, then returned to Roma family in Athlone

Read: Roma couple charged with abducting mystery child ‘Maria’

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