Myth of kidnap of children by particular ethnic groups has a disreputable history
Opinion: If we are judged on how we treat the least fortunate, we have some soul-searching to do
Roma children play at an encampment in Triel-sur-Seine, near Paris. Photograph: Reuters
There’s a chain of events that unfolds when a story runs away with itself and few people shout “stop”. On Monday, a seven-year-old Roma girl was taken from her family home in Dublin. On Tuesday, a two-year-old Roma boy was taken from his family in the midlands.
The crimes of these children and their families were that parents and children did not look like each other.
Events in Ireland followed on the heels of the discovery of a girl known as “Maria” during a raid on a Roma camp in Greece. There, the Roma couple claiming to be her parents have been charged with abduction and her biological parents have yet to be found despite a huge international operation.
This chain of events is also a narrative. Truth, nuance, shades of grey and patience are often seen as irritants that journalism just doesn’t have the time to deal with when there’s a scoop to be pursued.
Mick McCaffrey of the Sunday World broke the story, although TV3 was the initial organisation “tipped off” by a member of the public.
The story spread rapidly both here and internationally. At a loss for a photograph, newspapers republished the one of the Greek girl “Maria”. Conversations online and off were in many cases coloured with prejudice against Roma people.
Then the unfortunate truth reared its head to disrupt this “good story”. The boy was returned, and a DNA test revealed the girl to be the biological daughter of her parents, which is what they had insisted all along.
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said he was anxious that no group be “singled out for unwarranted attention”.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said, “This should not be seen to be about any group or any minority.”
Pavee Point, the Traveller support group, which had been issuing statements since the affair began, talked of racial profiling and “witch hunts”. The HSE was instructed to write a report on what had happened, and to give it to the Minister for Justice and the Minister for Children. It was also to be passed on to the Children’s Ombudsman.
Abroad the Guardian newspaper called it “an embarrassing U-turn”. That is to put it mildly.
Ten million Roma people live in Europe, and there are few places where they are welcomed with open arms. Ireland has a record of treating nomadic people badly, and prejudice against the Traveller community is still common. Across Europe, anti-Roma sentiment
Part of this is the by-product of the general interaction people have with Roma people, who are most visible through organised begging in our towns and cities. You have to feel sorry for the young women who seem to be the primary victims of this practice, being shuffled from bridge to bridge, street corner to corner, damp pavement to damp pavement by gruff older men. Instead of addressing the causes of this oppression, we criminalise it. In 2008, Silvio Berlusconi ordered the fingerprinting of 150,000 Roma in Italy.