Belfast Telegraph

Adoption proceedings in Northern Ireland must not be influenced by the colour of a child's skin, a High Court judge has ruled

By Alan Erwin

Adoption proceedings in Northern Ireland must not be influenced by the colour of a child's skin, a High Court judge has ruled.

Mr Justice O'Hara rejected suggestions that a five-year-old boy should retain regular contact with his African parents because he is ethnically different to the vast majority of the population.

His assessment came as he ordered the child should be adopted due to his mother and father having unreasonably withheld their consent.

The judge said: "I am troubled by any suggestion that a court in this jurisdiction should be slower to free a coloured child for adoption than a white child."

An unnamed Trust went to court seeking the order amid claims that the boy, referred to only as M, has led a damaged life.

His mother was pregnant with him when she arrived in the Republic of Ireland in 2009, saying she had escaped from gangs and left behind at least one other child.

Amid treatment for mental health problems following M's birth, her asylum application was refused and she was ordered to be deported.

In 2011 she travelled to Northern Ireland with her son before he was taken into care because of concerns about her ability to look after him.

A year later the boy's father arrived for the first time.

In a newly published judgment Mr Justice O'Hara set out how the Trust learned in 2013 that M's older sister travelled unaccompanied from southern Africa to Dublin intent on heading north to join her parents.

Describing it as a "reckless plan" which led to her also being taken into care, he said neither the girl nor her parents have any right to stay in Northern Ireland.

According to the judge it was impossible to believe either parent's account of their relationship, the number of children they have, or how they have been looked after.

M, who has not been cared for by his mother since he was two, was held to have extremely limited attachment to his parents.

Mr Justice O'Hara said the boy has been "very damaged" by his experiences and needs years of stability neither parent can provide.

"Indeed the evidence, which I accept, is that contact for M with his parents is capable of re-traumatising him," he said.

"I acknowledge that the making of a freeing order with very limited subsequent contact is a particularly serious interference with the individual and collective rights of the parents but in this case it is entirely necessary and unavoidable."

Referring to the ethnicity issue advanced on behalf of the parents against M being freed for adoption, the judge acknowledged the boy has a different skin colour to the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland.

But he rejected a suggestion that even if he was kept from his parents it would be better for him to stay in foster care and keep regular contact so they could provide reassurance about his background.

"All of the evidence points towards less contact rather than more," Mr Justice O'Hara insisted.

"I believe that any reasonable parents of any race would want to see their children raised in a stable and secure setting rather than a problematic and volatile one."

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