Shambolic episode as HSE is forced to return two children
Shatter orders garda report on Roma 'blond' child cases
Published 24/10/2013 | 02:00
Two Roma children are back with their families after an embarrassing episode in which they were removed by gardai over doubts about their parentage.
Gardai and the HSE were embroiled in a drama that unfolded in the public eye – just days after an incident where a blond girl was taken into care from a Roma couple in Greece.
When it emerged that both Roma children in Ireland had been wrongly removed, Justice Minister Alan Shatter said he would be ordering a report into the garda action in both cases.
The inquiry will look into why the Roma children – a seven-year-old girl from Tallaght, Co Dublin, who can not be identified and Iancu Muntean (2) from Athlone, Co Westmeath – were taken from their natural parents, amid unfounded concerns that the children had been abducted.
The incidents played out in front of international television cameras when the story of the Roma girl from Tallaght being taken into state care by gardai was leaked to the media.
In both cases, the two young children, who were noticed because of their blond hair and blue eyes, are back with their families after the traumatic experience of being taken away by authorities.
The Tallaght couple said their little girl had not eaten for three days because she was so upset.
The parents arrived back home with their seven-year-old daughter at 9.45 last night. The little girl was rushed into the house under a coat.
Her father spoke briefly to the media, with one of his daughters translating.
She said: "We don't want it to happen to any family. That's all he wants to say."
She added: "He is very happy."
Asked what the first thing the little girl said when she saw her parents, her older sister replied: "She said she was very happy. She was crying."
And in Athlone, the parents of Iancu Muntean (2) spoke of their trauma after he had been removed by gardai amid questions over his parentage. He, too, was returned to his parents yesterday.
"I say to guards: 'What make you take my baby?'" said Mr Muntean, adding he queried who was responsible for it.
"When somebody take your kid you feel sick, you feel bad."
Amid the fallout, the Justice Minister ordered Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan to provide a full report on how the cases were handled.
Mr Shatter stressed: "It is important that no group or minority community is singled out for unwarranted attention, or, indeed, suspicion in relation to child-protection issues."
But immigrant organisations are now pressing the Government for assurances that racial profiling is not being used in child-welfare cases.
And the vindicated family of the seven-year-old from Tallaght are now considering legal action after she spent two nights in state care.
The saga began when a member of the public raised concerns about her fair appearance compared to her relatives in the Dublin suburb.
A tip-off to a journalist led gardai to descend upon the house, where they interviewed the two adults about the girl, and sought proof that she was their daughter.
When they were not satisfied with the documentation provided, they decided to remove the child from the care of her parents.
But DNA test results last night proved that she is the child of the Roma couple, who have always maintained she was their natural daughter.
The family's solicitor, Waheed Mudah, said: "Her removal has been a cause of huge upset to her parents, her brothers and sisters, and the young girl.
"Our clients also wish to say that they do not believe that what has happened to their family over the last few days should ever have happened.
He added that they were "very conscious of the fact that this case has been linked with events in other countries which have nothing to do with them".
Moving to order a report into both cases from gardai, Mr Shatter told the Dail: "I think these matters are sufficiently serious to warrant being mentioned in this house."
Mr Shatter made reference to the young blond girl found living with a Roma couple in Greece, which sparked global headlines.
"It is important that we don't get caught up in some of the concerns and some of the media spotlight that has arisen in the context of cases in other states," he said.
However, in a statement, he did acknowledge that the gardai and HSE "have to deal with very difficult situations and have to make very difficult decisions when dealing with issues of child protection".
Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald, however, stressed the need for the public to remain vigilant in reporting suspected child abductions.
She said: "Child protection is at the centre of any decisions that are taken, where gardai or social workers act in cases where children are taken into care. It's always about child protection and the best interests of the child."
The gardai also defended their role in the two cases.
A statement said: "Protecting vulnerable children is of paramount importance to An Garda Siochana and we continue to work in partnership with the HSE and other agencies to ensure children's safety."
- Shane Phelan, Tom Brady and Nicola Anderson