State may compensate families of Roma children taken into care
Ombudsman finds ethnic profiling played key role in removal of child
Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan said the events of last October have had a serious impact on the two Roma children involved and their families. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
The Government has offered to compensate both Roma families at the centre of a storm of controversy last year when two of their children were removed from their care by State authorities.
An inquiry by Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan has found ethnic profiling played a role in the Garda’s decision to remove a fair-haired two-year-old boy in Athlone from his family.
The Garda also failed to critically evaluate an allegation by a member of the public about a fair-haired seven-year-old girl in Tallaght who was removed from her parents’ care.
Both children were returned to their families after DNA tests proved they were related to their parents.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald and acting Garda Commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan all issued apologies yesterday for the State’s handling of the cases.
Mr Kenny said: “These kind of events should not happen to anybody in our jurisdiction, and nobody can afford to stand over that or can stand over it.”
Ms Fitzgerald also met with the families privately and issued a personal apology. “We regret the pain that they went through,” she said. “It happened out of a determination to protect children, but that determination got skewed.”
The Government has pledged to implement a range of recommendations – such as cultural training for gardaí and better information-sharing – aimed at ensuring such a mistake does not happen again.
Ms Logan said the events of last October have had a serious impact on both children and their families.
The seven-year-old girl ended up changing her hair colour over fears she might be taken from her family again, while the parents of the two-year-old had been left in a state of shock and distress. There was also fear and uncertainty among the wider Roma community on foot of the controversy, she said.
Ms Fitzgerald last night opened the door to a compensation deal with the families and expressed hope that a “fair and amicable” arrangement could be reached with the State which would not cause further stress for the families involved.
While one of the families has launched legal proceedings, sources close to the Minister last night said a compensation deal could still be agreed if they were open to this.
Among the key points in Ms Logan’s report are that physical dissimilarities between parents and their children did not constitute a reasonable basis for suspecting that such children have been abducted.
The readiness to believe the two-year-old boy in Athlone may have been abducted “exceeded the evidence” available to the Garda. 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, an inherited condition which affects skin and hair colour.
In the case of the seven-year-old girl in Tallaght, there were more complex issues such as inaccurate information provided initially from the maternity hospital.