Racism is not the most obnoxious aspect of these child snatchings

Opinion: What happened to these two families in daylight has happened to others in secret

Minister for  Children Frances Fitzgerald speaking to media yesterday about the recent Roma children incidents. Photograph: Alan Betson

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald speaking to media yesterday about the recent Roma children incidents. Photograph: Alan Betson

Fri, Oct 25, 2013, 12:01

Pavee Point is worried that the snatching of two Roma children from their parents by the State might “create the conditions for an increase in racism and discrimination against the Roma community living here”. An increase in racism among whom? Trolls? Taxi drivers?

Let’s be clear. If it’s not already racist to snatch a child from the bosom of its parents on the basis of ethnic distinctions relating to tint of skin or colour of eyes or hair, then there’s no such thing as racism. We don’t have to wait on tenterhooks wondering if these incidents will “create the conditions” for racism. They are racism. We live in a racist state – rightly disgraced before the world.

But racism is arguably among the least ominous aspects of what happened this week. Far worse was the denial of due process, the misuse of the law, the trampling on constitutional rights and the cruelty to the children and families involved – all perpetrated by people charged with upholding the Constitution and protecting citizens.


Unreasonable grounds
The Child Care Act 1991 allows An Garda Síochána to “remove a child to safety” where there are reasonable grounds for believing that there is “an immediate and serious risk to the health or welfare” of a child, and where the urgency is such as to demand a more expeditious response than, for example, an application to a court for an emergency care order. In neither of this week’s cases was there an immediate and serious risk to the children. Leaving aside that, as we now know, both children were in the care of their parents, there was no suggestion of cruelty, abuse or neglect.

In both cases, other children remained with the parents, suggesting that the authorities had no concrete child protection fears. This suggests that not only was the legislation improperly used but that the stupidity underlying the original complaint may have carried right through the investigation.

In truth, what happened to these two families in relative daylight has been happening in secret to Irish families for a long time, to the near total indifference of the Irish media and public. For many years, Irish journalists and editors have turned blind eyes to the abuses perpetrated by “child protection” authorities, with most media organisations hiding behind lawyers and pleading powerlessness to report what’s happening.

Generally speaking, journalists have a deeply reactionary record under this heading – with many perversely promoting a pernicious ideology of the-state-right
-or-wrong in respect of family rights and freedoms. Many journalists were to the fore last year in informally campaigning for the dismantling of existing constitutional protections for families. Those who campaigned against that amendment now have a right to an answer to this question: on what grounds might journalists continue to feel entitled to accuse of “scaremongering” those who express legitimate concerns about extending the powers available to the State over families and children?

I heard two journalists on the radio on Wednesday morning self-righteously telling one another that of course they knew much more about the case that they were able to report, but were precluded from giving further details by the provisions of the Child Care Act.

This is typical of the spinelessness characterising media treatment of these issues. Since when do journalists bend the knee to State cruelty and inhumanity? How can editors feel entitled to preen themselves when they face down the State and its legal authorities in relation to piddling political dropsies, and yet tiptoe like novice Carmelites around a tabernacle when it comes to the legal underpinnings of a nascent fascism?

It’s worth remembering that this week’s outrages occurred under the pre-“Children’s Rights Amendment” dispensation which may yet, arising from the outcome of the referendum conducted last year, be altered to enable far worse things to happen.

Due to the challenge mounted to the result of the referendum by Joanna Jordan, the changes voted for by the electorate on November 10th have not yet been inserted into the Constitution. In rejecting Ms Jordan’s High Court petition last week, Judge Paul McDermott at first indicated unwillingness to grant a stay on the referendum certificate.


Family protection
Had he persisted in this position, the amendment might have been signed that afternoon by President Michael D Higgins, which would have meant that the present article 42.5, with its purportedly excessive protections for families, would have been deleted and replaced by the new more State-friendly article 42A. Following consultations with lawyers on both sides, the judge changed his mind and allowed a two-week stay, to enable Ms Jordan to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Of course the actions of the authorities in the two cases this week were flagrantly in breach of the existing article 42.5. But if the Jordan appeal fails, we may look back on these events with a sense that these were the good old days when the Irish State had somewhat less than total impunity to abuse families and children.

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