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Tuesday 16 September 2014

Taoiseach on Roma children: No group or race is being ‘singled out’

Published 24/10/2013 | 11:06

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Two year old Iancu Muntean  pictured with his mother Loredana and father Iancu
Two year old Iancu Muntean pictured with his mother Loredana and father Iancu

THE Taoiseach has insisted that the removal of two Roma children from their homes by State authorities this week is not the result of any group or race being “singled out for unwarranted attention”.

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“This should not be seen to be about any group or any minority, this is about children, and there’s always a balance to be struck if there are genuine fears about the health, welfare and safety of children,” Enda Kenny said today.

The two 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 cannot 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.

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."

Speaking today, Mr Kenny said the HSE would provide a report to the justice and children’s minister, and for the Children’s Ombudsman.

“It’s only right and proper that we get a detailed report on what exactly happened here and the balance that was struck between the safety, welfare and health of the children and the law as it stands.”

“This is case of the safety and centrality of children as distinct from any categorisation of a sector or a minority grouping.”

Mr Shatter has said it’s important that "lessons might be learned" from the saga in which two Roma children were removed by gardai over doubts about their parentage.

He said on RTE Radio's Morning Ireland today the report will examine the "background circumstances" in the cases and "the procedures that were followed".

Procedural changes in any such future cases may have to be implemented, he said.

Mr Shatter admitted that concerns over the childrens' parentage were "unfounded", but he said he had "no doubt that gardai acted in good faith".

"The gardai and the HSE have been criticised in some cases for not acting as speedily as they should... they're damned if they do and they're damned if they don't."

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald has ordered a separate report from the HSE. The two reports will then be given to the Children's Ombudsman within two weeks, Mr Shatter said.

Meanwhile, the two families at the centre of the contoversy which received international media attention, will be offered any social services assistance they may require in order to cope with the trauma of the last few days, the Minister said.

Both children, who were noticed because of their blond hair and blue eyes, are back with their families after the traumatic experience.

Siobhan Curran from Pavee Point urged Minister Fitzgerald to launch an independent review into the actions of State authorities, and whether they were "compliant with human rights standards".

She asked for questions to be addressed like whether 2racial profiling was at play" in the embarrassing episode.

Questions also needed to be asked on what evidence the authorities have, why there was "such haste" involved in the removal of the children from their families, and why it was "the first resort and not the second resort", she said.

Ms Curran said the cases are "very damaging" and have created "a fear" in the Roma community that more similar cases will arise.

"The Minister needs to take leadership on a review. Our key concern is that it would be independent and that it has to be taken in a timely manner," Ms Curran added.

Amnesty International has urged a full and frank investigation into the cases.

 

Colm O'Gorman, spokesman for the organisation in Ireland, said responses to reported child protection concerns needed to be proportionate and non-discriminatory.

 

"There must now be a full and open investigation to find out if correct procedures were applied in both these cases," he said.

 

"If it is found that the authorities' actions were discriminatory, steps must taken to ensure this is not repeated. There must be a public apology to the Roma families for the wrongdoing."

 

Mr O'Gorman added: "The eyes of the world are now on Ireland, and the Government must show institutional discrimination will not be tolerated."

 

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, in Brussels for an EU summit, said: "Clearly there are consequences to the action but it's only right and proper that we get a detailed report of what happened here and the balance that was struck between the safety, health and welfare of the children and the law as it stands."

Irish Independent

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