Roma treatment outrageous

Fri, Oct 25, 2013, 01:00

The shocking and, to them and their community, deeply distressing removal of two Roma children from their parents represents a bewildering, unnecessary, and outrageous overreach by state officials. It is difficult even to imagine the trauma and sense of insecurity inflicted on a seven-year-old by people who, however well-intentioned, were explicitly charged in law with, and appeared to believe they were acting to protect her from “immediate and serious threat to [her] ... health or welfare”. Now there’s an irony.

What threat? There is apparently no suggestion of any fear for the health or welfare of the two children. And if there had been, presumably it would have been a threat to all the children in the two households, who, by this logic, should also have been removed immediately.

Did nobody – in the Garda, HSE, or the family court – ask the obvious questions: “Is this the only, best, and proportionate way to proceed?” It seems, no. “Is the seizure of these children necessary to securing their and their parents’ DNA?” No. “Would we even be asking these questions or contemplating removing these children if they were not Roma?” Probably no.

The suspicion must be that a stereotyping and demonisation of this community, fanned by international press reports of the Greek case, meant that such concerns were never considered. Fears expressed by Roma organisations of racial profiling or institutional racism need to be taken seriously.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter warns that gardaí are “damned if they do and damned if don’t” act vigorously on warnings of child neglect or abuse. Indeed, it would be disastrous if the furore deterred the prompt investigation of cases that are drawn to their attention. But that is not the point. Gardaí had more options than to act or not to act. Blood could have been taken discreetly without either the children’s removal or publicity. Their mothers could have been allowed to accompany them if the drastic option of removal was contemplated.

The taking of a child from its parents must be a measure of last resort, and the law provides that gardaí can only do so on the basis of that “immediate and serious threat” to the child. It should only happen when the normal process of notification to and action by the HSE is not feasible for some reason. And why, when it did become involved on Tuesday, did the HSE simply rubberstamp the Garda decision and seek an emergency care order in the family court? What happened there we can only guess at because of the in camera rule, although welcome new regulations due to come into force shortly will allow contemporaneous reporting and a degree of transparency now missing.

The onus now is on Mr Shatter to go beyond an internal Garda inquiry and to establish and then publish a rapid, independent review of the two cases. An apology would also be welcome.