Roma families fall victim to old prejudices

Published 05/11/2013 | 05:38

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I was in Fatima last week, a beautiful remote part of Portugal where in 1917 Our Lady appeared to three children who were pasturing their flock. Since then millions of pilgrims have visited the site of the apparitions, bringing their prayers and intentions, seeking God's help in their lives and sharing in the beautiful events of almost a century ago.

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During the events of 1917, at one stage the children were taken away and interrogated, perhaps in an attempt to discredit their story and undermine the Apparitions themselves. It was awful treatment of innocent children.

I couldn't help but think of the recents events in Ireland where I, like many others, was shocked at how two children, a 7-year-old girl in Tallaght and a 2-year-old boy in Athlone, were removed from their Roma families by Gardaí who were directed to do so by the HSE under childcare legislation.

A couple of things struck me about this whole sorry saga. Firstly, the blatant racism underlying the case cannot be understated. Make no mistake - this is nothing short of racial profiling, targeting a group following a concept of guilty until proven otherwise.

The assumption that these children don't belong to their families is causing a lot of anxiety, and rightly so. Can you imagine what's next? Will the Gardaí start patrolling residential areas at the behest of the HSE and indiscriminately pluck children from parents who perhaps adopted them from outside of Ireland?

I know of several families who have adopted children from China, Russia, and many other places. These children don't resemble their adopted parents whatsoever. Yet I doubt very much that the Gardaí will come and take them away. The only reason the families in the instance two weeks ago were targeted, was because they were of the Roma community, a community that has been subjected to prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination for a very long time.

The Gardaí and HSE claim that they were only acting in the best interests of the blonde-haired children, and trying to ensure their safety by removing them from what we must assume they considered 'unsafe' homes. However, a closer look at the situation reveals that the other children living there, children who had dark hair, were left with the families while the blonde haired children were taken out. If it was such an unsafe place for blonde-haired children, was it not the same for the others also?

When situations of a similar nature arose in the past involving church leaders, calls were made for heads to roll, and subsequent resignations were demanded, and indeed delivered. Where is the accountability in this current case? Will the Minister for Justice consider his position, and even perhaps resign? No chance. Will the Garda Commissioner consider his position, or will the powers that be in the HSE consider their lofty positions? Absolutely not.

The children involved here are of the Roma community and as such their rights don't seem to matter. For example, to force anyone to undergo DNA testing is a breach of fundamental human rights. Of course it will be argued that the parents gave their consent to their children being tested, but realistically, had they any choice? They were traumatised and humiliated, and under such duress that they would have agreed to anything to get their children back.

They shouldn't have been put through this, and in my opinion those who put them through it, be they the heads of the HSE, the Garda Commissioner or Ministers Shatter or Fitzgerald, should resign immediately. True justice deserves as much.

The three shepherd children who witnessed the Apparitions in Fatima were treated abominably by the authorities, but that was 100 years ago. I wonder, has anything been learned since?

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