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Two richest Roma clans at centre of child rape

Ireland's two richest Roma gypsy families are understood to have met last week to settle the issue of the Medieval-style rape and "betrothal" of a 12-year-old girl by a 15-year-old boy.

The rape of the 12-year-old girl, a member of the second wealthiest Roma gypsy family in Ireland who was abducted by the family of a 15-year-old boy belonging to the wealthiest family was described yesterday as "heinous".

The chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Ellen O'Malley-Dunlop, said yesterday: "If a child has been abducted and has been raped, that is a heinous crime -- and it's a crime that is punishable by the law.

"I know that the Romas have different practices in relation to their traditional marriages -- but once they are living in this country, they must abide by the law. It is the same for people of any nationality living here.

"In Ireland we do not allow the rape of a child or the rape of anybody. In our law it is the second most serious crime after murder.

"We must be very clear. While we do respect other cultures and other traditions in our country, we must be very clear that the child is at the centre of care here."

There was no comment on the affair from either the Irish Immigrant Council or Pavee Point. A spokesperson for Pavee Point, the State-sponsored group that deals with traveller affairs said she was not working last week and had no comment. The Immigrant Council said no one was available for comment.

The gardai are taking the case "very seriously", according to a senior figure. Eight men are under investigation along with the 15-year-old. All are members of the major Roma family here which controls an unknown number but certainly controls hundreds of the women beggars on the streets of Irish cities and towns.

The girl was snatched from Dawson Street along with her 15-year-old sister in broad daylight last Thursday week but was traced by gardai the following day to a house in north Leinster.

While her sister was released unharmed, the 12-year-old was taken to the house where she was placed in a bedroom with the teenage boy. Medical examination of the girl at the Rotunda Hospital the following day showed she had been raped.

A senior Government source told the Sunday Independent last week that there is no clear picture of how many Romas are in Ireland. All have passports from the new EU accession states, mostly from Romania, Bulgaria or the Czech Republic and are entitled to be here under the free travel arrangements of the EU. However, they are not entitled to welfare payments of any kind.

Senior garda sources said the major Roma families are financing themselves here through crime by males, mostly handbag snatching. One of the most common scams by young Roma men is for two to approach some one at an ATM and while one distracts the customer's attention the other snatches the cash.

Gardai say that many Roma are operating between Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic. They often move from one jurisdiction to another as soon as they come into contact with the law.