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So our Minister for Justice has been speaking about the cases of the two children who were taken from immigrant Roma families on the basis of concerns that they were not the biological children of those families (with the implication that the children were stolen or kidnapped).

"Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland Shatter said that the “international backdrop” of the case in Greece “that has been under the spotlight for sometime may have had possibly some undue influence in the decisions that were made” in two cases in Ireland this week."

The fuck you say, Alan! Who would have thought it? How did at least one of the cases happen? Why, a public-spirited citizen contacted (by leaving a message on Facebook, as some accounts have it) a TV crime show, who then got the police involved. In the second case, a member of the public got onto the cops directly.

Now, let's have a look at the legislation under which the children were taken out of their homes and put in temporary care:


PART III

Protection of Children in Emergencies


Power of Garda Síochána to take a child to safety.

12.—(1) Where a member of the Garda Síochána has reasonable grounds for believing that —


(a) there is an immediate and serious risk to the health or welfare of a child, and

(b) it would not be sufficient for the protection of the child from such immediate and serious risk to await the making of an application for an emergency care order by a health board under section 13,

the member, accompanied by such other persons as may be necessary, may, without warrant, enter (if need be by force) any house or other place (including any building or part of a building, tent, caravan or other temporary or moveable structure, vehicle, vessel, aircraft or hovercraft) and remove the child to safety.

(2) The provisions of subsection (1) are without prejudice to any other powers exercisable by a member of the Garda Síochána.

(3) Where a child is removed by a member of the Garda Síochána in accordance with subsection (1), the child shall as soon as possible be delivered up to the custody of the health board for the area in which the child is for the time being.

(4) Where a child is delivered up to the custody of a health board in accordance with subsection (3), the health board shall, unless it returns the child to the parent having custody of him or a person acting in loco parentis, make application for an emergency care order at the next sitting of the District Court held in the same district court district or, in the event that the next such sitting is not due to be held within three days of the date on which the child is delivered up to the custody of the health board, at a sitting of the District Court, which has been specially arranged under section 13 (4), held within the said three days, and it shall be lawful for the health board to retain custody of the child pending the hearing of that application.


So what was this "immediate and serious risk to the health or welfare of a child" that meant the police and the health services had to remove the children?

(1) The seven year old girl in Dublin:

The message that prompted the case was with the Paul Connolly Investigates programme on TV3 on Monday.

It read: “Hi Paul. Today was on the news that blond child found in (named ethnic group) camp in Greece. There is also a little girl living in a… house in (named suburb) and she is blond and blue eyes.”


(2) The two year old boy in Athlone:

In the second case, a two-year-old boy was removed by gardaí from his family home on Tuesday evening in the Midlands.

His father was invited down to the local Garda station and on arrival was informed his son was being taken from him after concerns had been expressed, by a member of the public, that the boy was not the biological child of the man and his wife as they insisted.


Yep. That's it. Nobody said "These children are being beaten by their parents". So far as we know (we'll have to wait for the reports from the Guards and the Health Service Executive for the details), when the guards arrived on the doorstep, nobody said "Aha! Evidence of neglect and abuse!" So far as we know, there were no previous reports or concerns about children at risk in these households.

So why did the police use what the Minister for Children has described as exceptional powers for exceptional cases to remove two children from their families? And why, if there was an abuse/neglect risk, did they not take the other children in the houses as well from a place of endangerment?

The ugly fact of the matter appears to be this: the sole basis for reporting these suspicions in the first place and acting upon them in the second appears to be based on nothing more than "The parents are dark, the children are fair" (and with the overtones of "Not alone are the parents dark, they're foreign and not alone are they foreign, they're Gypsies").

Tabloid coverage and sensationalism about the case in Greece (and we still don't even know what exactly is going on there: the girl in the Greek case is not related to the couple raising her, but they claim she was handed over in an informal adoption), coupled with generations of stories about Gypsies stealing children, acted upon the simmering prejudices and blatant racism in Irish society, stoked by politicians (including members of the present government) being willing to use vote-catching mantras about "welfare cheats" and "dole scroungers" and petty criminality (all those foreigners coming in here living off welfare at our expense is why the social welfare bill is so high and why we, the hard-working Irish, are being taxed and charged out of existence and have our benefits and allowances cut).

The police in Dublin obviously reacted as they did because of the involvement of the TV journalist. Faced with the possibility of negative publicity if they did not do the maximum, the fear of a big splashy story by a tabloid journalist and lowest-common-denominator broadcasting TV station panting for a juicy scandal "We reveal shocking truth about child trafficking!" special broadcast, hanging the police out to dry if they did not investigate and remove the child, of course they decided to take the story seriously, question the family, and take the child into care.

Their colleagues in Athlone probably were motivated by the same concerns: being pilloried in the press and on TV for falling down on the job where children were at risk.

So the blue-eyed blond(e) children were removed from these shady characters - while the dark-eyed brunette children were left in their care. There might be some fig leaf of rationale if all children in the houses had been taken into temporary care on the grounds of suspected risk, but to take the 'white' child and leave the Roma-looking one - that's pretty damn blatant.

These parents were lucky that DNA testing proved they were telling the truth. The trouble is, what happens next? Are we going to have a serious debate about racism and prejudice in Ireland, and the role that the media (all of them) have to play in stoking these kinds of scares? Or are we going to retreat from facing these questions and leave it so that people are afraid to report genuine suspicions for fear of scaremongering, the police and social services are seen as agents of oppression not of support, and children at risk will be left to sink or swim depending on if they're lucky enough to catch the eye of someone who will do something about it?
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