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Gerry O'Carroll: We must not ignore tradition of helping

THERE are certain times when one should think with the heart instead of the head. I believe the upsetting case of Herald angel Aline Barros and her mother Sylwia is one of those.

Aline, who was paralysed in a hit-and-run accident two years ago, faces the trauma of going through a court case next month without her mother Sylwia, who has been told she must leave the country next week.

I'm appealing to Justice Minister Dermot Ahern to look deep into his own heart, as a family man and a father himself, and to grant Sylwia a visa extension for a mere two months so that she can help her brave daughter through her forthcoming ordeal.

Regular readers are already familiar with Aline's plight. The Brazilian woman, who captured the hearts of all with her beautiful smiling face, was employed as a Herald newspaper seller. On her way to work one morning she was hit by a truck, leaving her paralysed from the waist down.

It was a devastating blow for such a vivacious young woman with her whole life ahead of her. Robbed of her independence, Aline is still determined to prove doctors wrong and hopes to be able to walk again some day.

Throughout her recovery, she has received constant care from her mother Sylwia who travelled to Dublin from her home in Minas Gerais. Yet, because her visitor's visa has expired, Sylwia has been told she must leave the country by May 20th. If she leaves, she will be unable to support her daughter through the traumatic court case that is due to get underway in June.

I truly believe this is a case where Justice Minister Dermot Ahern should intervene on compassionate grounds. I am conscious of the difficult decisions facing the immigration section every day, and I know the issue of immigrants is a veritable minefield. The Justice Department has taken a barrage of criticism in the past, much of it undeserved. In many cases, illegal immigrants make outrageous bogus claims in order to remain here.

However, the cause that I'm championing is different. This is a genuine and tragic case and Sylwia Barros simply wants to remain in Ireland until the court case is completed.

I'm sure that both she and her daughter would love to be back at home living an uncomplicated life, but these are unforeseen circumstances.

I feel it is imperative that this caring woman should be granted a visa extension. Those few weeks will make all the difference for her courageous daughter.

Mr Ahern will surely appreciate this dire situation. In Ireland we have a long and cherished tradition of extending a hand to a stranger. I'm appealing to him to extend the hand of welcome to Sylwia Barros for just a few more weeks.

Minister, you will remember the decision taken in the Justice Department a few years ago to grant Nigerian Olunkunle Eluhanla a six-month visa extension to sit his Leaving Cert exams. At the time, there was a public outcry at Michael McDowell's cold and impersonal stance and he was ultimately persuaded to allow the boy to remain in Ireland temporarily.

Now it is your turn, Minister, to take action that will prove you are not one of those heartless mandarins with rocks where their hearts should be.

Aline Barros was a victim of cruel fate. Please ensure that she does not now become a victim of cold, callous bureaucracy.