Belfast Telegraph

Probe call over Roma child removals

Calls have been made for an independent inquiry into why two Roma children were "abducted" from their families by Irish authorities.

A human rights group claimed both cases bore all the hallmarks of racial profiling and warned gardai and health chiefs to examine the facts before assuming a child with fair features does not belong to a Roma couple.

A seven-year-old girl and a two-year-old were separately taken in to care by authorities in the last two days amid concerns over their appearance and documentation.

The toddler has since been reunited with his family in Athlone in the midlands, while officials await the results of DNA tests on the Dublin schoolgirl and her parents.

Martin Collins of Pavee Point, which works on behalf of Irish travellers and the Roma community, claimed the pair were "literally abducted from their families".

"We are extremely concerned and worried about these developments," he said.

"We hope it is not the beginning of some sort of pattern where children of Roma parents who are not dark skinned and have brown eyes are taken away one after the other for DNA test after DNA test.

"It's outrageous. It's quite despicable.

"We are calling for an independent transparent inquiry in to the events that led to these children being taken in to care."

Mr Collins said while gardai must react to all reports of child protection allegations, their reaction must be evidence based, proportionate and given due process.

He fears there is hysteria after the case of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl named Maria was found in Greece, whose DNA did not match the Roma couple who initially claimed to be her parents. Both face abduction charges.

In Dublin, a blonde haired, blue eyed schoolgirl has spent two nights in State care when gardai were not convinced by documents that she was the biological daughter of the family she lived with. She is expected to be returned tonight.

And a toddler taken from his parents in Athlone last night was returned by authorities this morning after inquiries.

Both children were removed from their family homes under section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991, which states a Garda must have reasonable grounds for believing that there is an immediate and serious risk to the health or welfare of a child.

Mr Collins said that was not the case in either case.

"They were both cared for, had adequate shelter, clothing and food. They were well loved," he continued.

"At no point at all was there an issue of an immediate and serious risk.

"These are quite clearly cases of racial profiling.

"Not every Roma has brown eyes and dark skin, the same as not every Spanish person does."

The Immigrant Council of Ireland also said the Irish Government should immediately outline what procedures are in place across all public services to prevent racial profiling.

It said the two high-profile cases have raised questions over whether minorities are being subjected to excessive attention from gardai.

Denise Charlton, chief executive, said: "Ireland has already been warned by a Council of Europe report in February about the need to prevent racial profiling, and the events of the past week have done little to reassure migrants that this has taken place.

"The placing of two children from the Roma community into care comes just one week after the Government announced that people from abroad would account for a disproportionate 50% of social welfare checks as part of a new crackdown on fraud.

"Any targeting of members of an individual community for such scrutiny, on the basis of unfounded perceptions that they are more likely than others to break the law, is wrong."

Ms Charlton said robust anti-racism policies and procedures are key to ensure fair access to and delivery of our public services.

"It is time for the Government to outline what procedures are in place to reassure people, both Irish and migrant, that no one need fear being targeted because of their background, belief or colour of their skin," she added.

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