Roma couple take DNA tests to prove that Dublin child (7) is their daughter
"I don't know why she was taken ... my sister was here, she was crying and very scared, she was choking ..."
Published 23/10/2013 | 01:21
A seven-year-old girl has spent her second night in the care of the Republic or Ireland's Health Service Executive while DNA tests are carried out to determine if she should be returned to the Roma couple who claim to be her parents.
A decision is expected to be taken this afternoon and will hinge on the outcome of DNA samples taken from the adults and the child.
Her sister insisted last night that she was a member of their family and had been wrongly removed from them.
"I don't know why she was taken," said the 21-year-old.
"My sister was here, she was crying and very scared, she was choking."
The girl was dramatically removed from a Roma family's home in Tallaght, Dublin, on Monday after a tip-off to gardai that she did not look like the rest of the family.
Events unfolded in the midst of worldwide publicity about a blond child, Maria, who was taken from a Roma couple in Greece.
In the Dublin case, the Roma couple last night gave their consent to DNA tests being carried out.
They were taken to a garda station where they gave samples through mouth swabs. The girl was also tested in the presence of HSE officials.
The results were sent immediately to the forensic laboratory at garda headquarters, and a decision on the outcome is due to be made by late afternoon.
The girl was taken from the house in Tallaght, in south Dublin, on Monday afternoon and placed in the care of the HSE.
The girl's sister said she belonged in the Tallaght house and had been living with them since the day she was born in 2006.
She said the girl attended a local school and had been watching TV on Monday afternoon when around a dozen garda officers and HSE officials arrived.
Dozen gardai and officials arrive as child watched TV
Members of the Roma community support the family of the child who was taken into care on Monday afternoon when around a dozen garda officers and HSE officials arrived.
Gardai visited the house after they received a claim from a journalist that the seven-year-old girl was not the householders' daughter.
The journalist was given the information about the girl, who is blond and has blue eyes, on Facebook.
During a two-hour visit to the house, officers interviewed the two adults about the girl and sought proof that she was their daughter.
They had concerns about the child's identity, and as a result of the interview and their attempts to check out the information given by the adults, they decided after two hours to use emergency powers contained in section 12 of the Child Care Act to take the girl from the family and hand her into the care of the HSE overnight.
The family produced a passport for the girl, but the photo used was of a small child and could not be immediately matched with the girl.
Gardai were also told by the family, who have other children, that the girl was born at the Coombe Hospital in 2006, but preliminary checks could not confirm that.
However, an independent examination of the Coombe records yesterday showed that the woman had given birth to a daughter on the day she mentioned in 2006.
At the time of the birth, the parents of the infant did not live in Tallaght, but had another address in Dublin. They have been residing in Tallaght for several years.
The child's first name on the birth record differed from the name used by the girl, but it was accepted that this was not unusual.
Gardai said last night that plans to carry out a more detailed interview with the Roma couple were being put on hold, pending the DNA results.
The garda investigation was launched after another Roma couple, accused of abducting 'Maria', a four-year girl with blond hair and blue eyes, told a Greek court that the child's biological mother had given her to them as a baby because she could not look after her.
DNA tests showed that 'Maria' was not born to the couple, who were arrested after police raided a Roma camp in search of drugs and weapons and found the girl.
The couple denied they had snatched the child.
Meanwhile, in response to the Tallaght case, Travellers' rights group Pavee Point said yesterday that it should be handled in accordance with standard HSE/garda procedures and the best interests of the child had to be prioritised.
The organisation said actions by the State needed to be evidence-based and due process should be accorded to all communities living in Ireland.
Details on birth certificate back claims of family
A copy of the birth certificate of the girl that the Roma family based in Tallaght say was wrongly taken from them has been obtained by The Irish Independent.
The publicly available document appears to back up the assertion by the Roma family that the seven-year-old girl is theirs.
The surname matches the names being given out by the family, as does the exact date and place of birth, the father's name, the mother's name, as well as her name prior to her marriage.
The infant's first name on the birth record differed from the name currently used by the girl. But it was accepted that this was not unusual in families and was not a factor in the investigation.
The address given on the birth cert is different to the Tallaght address where the family are now living, but when the little girl's older sister was asked where they had lived at the time of her birth, she supplied an address that matched the Dublin suburb written on the cert.
The cert records the girl as being born at a Dublin maternity hospital which would be the closest one to the address where they lived at the time of her birth.
Facebook tip to journalist came after case in Greece
By Breda Heffernan
A Facebook tip-off to a television journalist sparked a garda investigation that resulted in a child being taken from her Roma parents.
The message was posted on the Facebook page of 'Paul Connolly Investigates' on TV3.
The investigative reporter told how he was alerted to the message by an assistant producer on Monday morning.
"It was very, very specific which made me worry. It had the name of the child, a very clear description of the child, the address of the child.
"As is protocol obviously here in TV3, I then forwarded that information on to the Garda Press Office and from there it really kicked off and Tallaght garda station were on to me almost immediately.
"We were in contact then for the remainder of yesterday because the anonymous source -- the girl that had tipped us off through our Facebook page -- she hadn't given her number so we had to get that off her.
"We managed to get our hands on that at about 10 o'clock last night and contacted the gardai. They told me they'd be in touch and here we are," he said.
Mr Connolly added: "There's no proof as yet that the young girl isn't related and that obviously will be pending that DNA test."
The author of the Facebook message made reference to the case of Maria, the blonde girl found in a Roma camp in Greece who authorities believe was abducted, before adding: "There is also little girl living in Roma house in Tallaght and she is blond and blue eyes. Her name is. . . and the address is . . . I am from . . . myself and its a big problem there missing kids. The Romas robbing them to get child benefit in Europe."
Gardai have powers to take a child from family into care
By Nicola Anderson
A child law expert has defended legislation that allows gardai to enter a home without a warrant and to remove a child to safety on "reasonable grounds".
Geoffrey Shannon declined to comment on the individual case of the child removed from a Roma family in Dublin yesterday.
However, speaking generally, he explained that Section 12 of the Child Care Act allowed a garda to remove a child from its home where there were reasonable grounds for believing that there was a serious and immediate risk to the health or welfare of that child.
"There is nothing sinister about this," he said, adding that such incidents were "extremely rare" and only happened in situations deemed "absolutely urgent.
"Once a child is taken to a place of safety, the HSE is required to carry out an immediate assessment of the child's welfare such as health checks to ensure they were not malnourished and would carry out inquiries to determine the identity of a child, including DNA tests.
"If the authorities are not satisfied as to the health and welfare of the child, the next step would be to apply to the district court for an emergency care order," Mr Shannon said, adding that this was a "drastic measure that involved an action by a state authority without parents being given their constitutional right to due process".
However, the gardai are required to justify their departure from safeguards, and parents are given an opportunity to state their case in court, he said. Mr Shannon pointed out that there had long been criticism of state agencies for being too slow to act in protecting children and said the state had a duty to do so.