Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Garda face probe over Roma children

Tallaght Garda station, Belgard Walk, Dublin where a blonde-haired, blue-eyed seven year-old girl was taken before she was put into care after being taken from a Roma family in Ireland.

Ireland's Ombudsman for Children has been given special powers to investigate the Garda over the removing of two children from separate Roma families.

The youngsters, a girl aged seven and a two-year-old boy, were taken from their parents on Monday and Tuesday this week after members of the public reported they were not their children.

The claims were unfounded.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter has given Ombudsman Emily Logan the power to investigate the cases even though her remit normally stops her from probing the Garda.

"At the moment I do not have the power to investigate An Garda Siochana. I feel that, in this case, I need this power to conduct a complete investigation,'' she said.

"We make sure that the law is upheld, that citizens' rights are protected and that good standards of public administration are applied.

"As always, I intend to conduct an independent, impartial investigation from first principles. I will not be rubber-stamping the reports of other agencies. However, I appreciate that it is good practice for those agencies to conduct their own, internal investigations and make reports.''

The Ombudsman's office has been given extra powers for the investigation under section 42 of the Criminal Justice Act 2007.

Ms Logan already had the power to examine the role and actions of the Health Service Executive (HSE) where there are concerns a child had been adversely affected by actions or if there are suspicions of maladministration.

Separately the Garda Ombudsman has asked to be given a copy of a report ordered by Mr Shatter from the Garda commissioner Martin Callinan on the force's handling of the cases.

The blonde haired, blue eyed girl was taken from her south Dublin home for 48 hours from Monday evening while the boy, also fair haired, was removed from his home in Athlone in the Midlands overnight from Tuesday.

Both children were subsequently proven to be members of the families with the girl returned home after DNA tests.

The HSE is also filing a report on the cases. Both the Garda and health chiefs have been given two weeks to report back.

Among those calling for an independent inquiry into the children's cases were Amnesty International, and Pavee Point, a group which supports travellers and the Roma community, which said it fears there is hysteria after the case of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl named Maria who was found with a Roma family in Greece.

The organisation accused gardai and health chiefs of racial profiling.

A lawyer for the seven-year-old's parents said they believed the authorities had no proper basis for taking her into state care for two nights.

A member of the public raised concerns about her appearance by contacting a reporter on Facebook and he in turn reported it.

Mr Shatter said the extra powers were granted to allow Ms Logan to comprehensively and independently address all issues arising out of the removal of the two children.

"This will ensure that she has available to her the statutory basis which will enable her to proceed as she deems appropriate and is in a legal position to access all information that she may require from An Garda Siochana," he said.

The internal reports by the Garda and HSE are due on the minister's desk by November 8.

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