Second Opinion: Did racism protect the Roma children better than Irish children?

Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, speaking to media about the Roma Children incidents. Photograph: Alan Betson

Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, speaking to media about the Roma Children incidents. Photograph: Alan Betson

Tue, Nov 5, 2013, 01:00

The hysterical accusations of racism that followed the temporary removal of two children from their Roma families because of suspicions about their parentage prove that people have short memories.

The Garda are now being censured for doing what they were severely criticised for not doing in the past. Have people forgotten the findings of the child abuse reports published over the past 20 years?

All of these showed that the Garda need to be more forceful when it comes to child protection and speedily remove children from situations where they may be at risk.


Child to safety
The 1993 Kilkenny Incest Investigation found that the gardaí did not “act on their own initiative to remove a child to a place of safety”. When ‘Mary’ escaped from the family home to avoid being physically and sexually abused by her father, gardaí discovered where she was living and told the father who brought her home.

‘Mary’ was again severely physically assaulted by her father and called the Garda. “Her father went to bed at the gardaí’s suggestion and this concluded the incident.”

The 1996 report into the death of Kelly Fitzgerald – A Child is Dead – found that the authority of An Garda Síochána was not used to protect the child.

“On no occasion prior to Kelly’s death did the health board consider involving the Garda.”

The 2008 Monageer Inquiry into the deaths of Adrian and Ciara Dunne, three-year-old Lean and four-year-old Shania, found that the Garda’s behaviour was too hesitant and they did not act quickly enough.

When Garda E was asked to patrol outside the house, he did not visit in case it “exacerbated the situation”.

Garda Superintendent C said that if he or any member of An Garda Síochána had called to the Dunne household and the family was alive and well, they would be criticised for using “gombeen policing methods”.

Furthermore they were “neither trained nor qualified to carry out an assessment of the family”.

The 2010 report into the Roscommon child care case found that the children had been severely physically and sexually abused for many years and that the Garda and HSE staff had not been assertive and authoritative enough.

The Garda claimed to have had “no major concerns in that the parents were not seen in the pubs at night but usually during the day”. When relatives called the Garda to say that a 13-year-old child was looking after six younger children they were not immediately taken to a place of safety.

During the days following the removal of the children from their Roma families, outraged commentators accused the Garda of racism and suggested less traumatic ways in which they could have ascertained the children’s parentage without taking them away from the family, including believing the parents or allowing a parent to remain with their child.

The Garda did the right thing because it might not have been possible to ensure the children’s safety in any other way had there been anything untoward.

People seem to have forgotten what happened in Kilkenny, Mayo, Monageer and Roscommon. In all four cases the parents constantly lied to the gardaí and the HSE.


Highly controlling
The fathers were all highly controlling and dominant and the mothers either participated in or colluded with the abuse, or were passive and compliant. In all four cases the parents ran rings around anyone who tried to help the children and were deft at deflecting attention away from the children’s welfare.

In the Monageer case Adrian Dunne asked the Clonroche Curate who visited the family shortly before the murders/
suicide, if he [the curate] had made a will.

The curate told the inquiry he had “recoiled a little feeling that perhaps he had overstepped the mark”.

In the Roscommon case the parents were devious, manipulative, and able to stage-manage and orchestrate things to their own advantage.

“The views and opinions of the parents were accepted largely at face value.”

All four reports concluded that the authorities – An Garda Síochána and the HSE – must be more forceful and assertive where child protection is concerned.

Did racism play a part in the decision to immediately remove the children from their Roma families before investigating parentage? Possibly.

Better service
The Ombudsman for Children will eventually decide whether the Garda acted in the best interests of the children.

In the meantime we need to face the uncomfortable truth that racism, if it played a part, paradoxically provided the Roma children with a better service than was given to Irish children from Kilkenny, Mayo, Monageer and Roscommon.

These children needed immediate action and protection. They didn’t get it. They had white Irish parents who did what they wanted and got away with it. Is this inverse racism?


Dr Jacky Jones is a former HSE regional manager of health promotion
drjackyjones@gmail.com

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