SUPPORT groups working with the Roma community in Ireland have said they are concerned about potential racial profiling and "witch-hunts" arising from the HSE's decision to take a blond, blue-eyed girl from her Roma parents and into care.
They point out that the Roma, like any community in Europe, is ethnically mixed and it is not unusual for Roma parents to have fair children.
"We are very concerned and uneasy. You have that sick feeling in your stomach that this has the potential to be trouble. We just hope that doesn't happen," said Jennifer Dewan, campaigns officer with Nasc, the Irish Immigrant Support Centre.
The centre has been contacted by a number of worried Roma parents following the case in Greece of Maria, a blond girl suspected of being abducted by a Roma couple, and now the case in Tallaght, Dublin, where a blond child has been taken into care.
"This is a very diverse community, like any European community. We wouldn't make any assumptions if two dark-haired Irish parents had a blond child," said Ms Dewan.
"We were already a bit troubled by the reports coming out of Greece and the assumptions being made around the Roma community. There seems to be a bit of a racial element to it."
Ms Dewan said the Roma are often the victims of racial profiling.
"We certainly find in our work that they experience pretty significant amounts of racism on a regular basis," she added.
Pavee Point said it was concerned about a "witch-hunt" against the Roma community, and said it hoped the Tallaght case would be dealt with in an expedient manner and would not affect the trust that has been built up between services and the Roma in the south Dublin area.
"Pavee Point is concerned about witch-hunts against a vulnerable community and old stereotypes of an entire community being propagated in the media coverage of this development," said the group.
"Actions by the State need to be evidence-based and due process needs to be accorded to all communities living in Ireland.
"There is a real danger that precipitative action, undertaken on the basis of appearance, can create the conditions for an increase in racism and discrimination against the Roma community living here."
Meanwhile, authorities in Greece are continuing to sift through thousands of emails and calls in relation to the case of Maria.
A spokesman for The Smile of the Child, the Athens charity currently caring for the girl, said they have been inundated with calls about Maria.
The information they have gathered to date has been forwarded to Greek police in order to compile a list of missing persons cases to which Maria might fit; however, none is in relation to any Irish case.
"We have thousands of calls and emails and there might be something from Ireland, but I can't confirm that. We have a huge amount) of information," said the spokesman. "Up to now we have nothing from Ireland, nothing useful for the police."