Call for independent inquiry into taking of children from families

Pavee Point says two cases represent ‘racial profiling in the extreme’

Co-director of Pavee Point Martin Collins said a seven-year-old girl being “plucked from her family” in west Dublin on Monday under the suspicion that she was not the biological daughter of her Roma parents was “nothing short of despicable”. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Co-director of Pavee Point Martin Collins said a seven-year-old girl being “plucked from her family” in west Dublin on Monday under the suspicion that she was not the biological daughter of her Roma parents was “nothing short of despicable”. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Wed, Oct 23, 2013, 21:54

A Traveller support group has described the taking of two children from two Roma families into HSE care as “racial profiling in the extreme”.

Pavee Point is now calling for an independent inquiry into the actions of the State authorities involved.

Co-director of the organisation, Martin Collins said a seven-year-old girl being “plucked from her family” in west Dublin on Monday under the suspicion that she was not the biological daughter of her Roma parents was “nothing short of despicable”.The girl was returned to her family yesterday. A two-year-old boy who was taken into HSE care in the midlands on Tuesday was also returned to his parents yesterday.

“We were confident all along from speaking to the Roma community that the seven-year-old is the biological daughter of the family ...it is outrageous that something like this could happen in civilised western country,” Mr Collins said.

Mr Collins, who has been in contact with the family of the girl through intermediaries, said they were “bewildered and traumatised” by the experience.

The organisation said it is was disturbed that, in both cases, Roma children were removed from their families “as a matter of first resort and not as a matter of last resort that would normally be the case in all but the most extreme child protection cases”.

“There needs to be an independent, transparent and robust investigation into all matters leading up to this disgraceful act,” Mr Collins said last night, adding that the State has obligation to put in place safeguards to make sure that ethnic minorities are not subjected to racial profiling.

Pavee Point said such an independent review should consider what evidence the authorities had to justify their decision to remove the children from their families and if that evidence was sufficient for authorities to act in such haste.

Chief executive of the Immigrant Council Denise Charlton said the Government needed to provide assurances around racial profiling.

“Child protection always has to be the focus of everybody’s attention but we would be concerned that minorities are being subject to excessive attention,” she said.

“We always have to weigh children protection against people’s civil liberties, however, these two cases are worrying because they involved members of a particularly marginalised community and we would worry about people being targetd because they are part of a particular ethnic group.”

“We need assurances from the Government that safeguards against racial profiling are in place when interventions are made,” Ms Charlton said, adding that Ireland had been warned in a Council of Europe report in February about the need to prevent racial profiling.

“The events of the past week have done little to reassure migrants that this has taken place,” she said, adding that the Government needed to outline what procedures are in place to reassure people, both Irish and migrant, that “no-one need fear being targeted because of their background, belief or colour of their skin”.

Ms Charlton said the events of recent days had come on the back of comments made by the Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, last week in which she indicated that half of social welfare fraud was carried out by immigrants, something which the Immigrant Council said is not supported by any evidence .

The Integration Centre also called for an independent review of both cases and expressed “grave concern over the way in which two separate cases of Roma children being removed from their families has been driven by speculation rather than professional advice”.

CEO of the organisation, Killian Forde, said “the decisions to remove these children from their parents have been based upon tabloid journalism hysteria. In both cases the ‘reasonable grounds’ for the immediate intervention of the Gardaí was that the children did not look stereotypically Roma. The concern for the children was not based upon professional advice but negative stereotypes of Roma communities which have been largely fuelled by sensationalist media reporting.”

“These actions will serve to exacerbate the prejudice and discrimination that Roma communities unfortunately already face,” he added.