Racial profiling played role in removal of children from Roma families

Ombudsman finds physical traits were not a basis to believe children were abducted

Parents Loreda and Iancu with their two children Regina and Iancu junior (2), who was taken into care last October.

Parents Loreda and Iancu with their two children Regina and Iancu junior (2), who was taken into care last October.

Tue, Jul 1, 2014, 18:29

An inquiry by the Ombudsman for Children has found ethnic profiling played a role in the Garda’s decision to remove two Roma children from their families last year.

In a report published this afternoon, Ms Logan was critical of the Garda’s handling of both cases in which members of the public expressed concern that two fair-haired children in Tallaght and Athlone did not resemble their parents.

In the case of the two-year-old boy in Athlone, Ms Logan said a readiness to believe the child had been abducted exceeded evidence available to the Garda and was “tied inextricably” to the fact that the boy’s family was Roma.

Whatever doubts the Garda had in relation to the child should have been put decisively to rest after they were informed by the father that the child had albinism, a inherited condition which affects skin and hair colour.

She said handling of the second case - which involved a seven year old girl in Tallaght - was more complex.

In this case, gardaí were initially given inaccurate birth information by the local maternity hospital and had past experience of children being removed from the jurisdiction on foot of child protection concerns.

The report found it was “reasonable” for the Garda to have had concerns about the child’s welfare when the girl was taken into care.

But she said these was also a readiness to believe the child had been abducted because of the girl had fair hair and was living with a Roma family.

The concerns should have been alleviated following later confirmation of the child’s birth details by the Coombe.

Overall, Ms Logan found the events of last October had a “serious impact” on both the children and their families.

Ms Logan said she was very concerned to hear the seven-year-old girl say she had changed her hair colour to prevent her from being taken from her family again.

The family of the two year old boy were living in poverty, she said, and had come to the attention of charities such as the St Vincent de Paul and Barnardos because they were not eligible to access certain social welfare supports.

Ms Logan said families were owed an official apology for the upset caused to them by removing their children from their care.

The report also found that requiring the families to undergo DNA testing was not a proportionate measure to employ in circumstances where there was a significant amount of alternative information that could attest to the relationship between children and their parents.

She recommended that in the interests of rebuilding trust with the Roma community, it would be appropriate for the apology to come from the Minister for Justice and Equality.

She further recommended that a Roma cultural mediator should immediately be appointed to liaise between State agencies and Roma families living in the Tallaght region.

These events have led to increased fear amongst the Roma community that State authorities may remove children from their families, she said.

Ms Logan also welcomed the “immediate action” taken by Minister Fitzgerald to meet in person with the families to apologise for the upset caused to them by removing their children from their care.