Two cases in which Roma children were suddenly removed from their families in Dublin and the midlands because they were ‘too blonde’ have caused outrage in Ireland and abroad.
Garda police removed both children from their family homes this week after being ‘tipped off’ that they did not resemble their parents and must have been abducted. However, DNA tests later proved they were indeed the biological parents. The children were returned to their homes on Wednesday.
Claims by the Gardaí and the Health Service Executive (HSE) that they would hold internal inquiries into the matter only raised concerns of an attempt to conceal illegal actions which were partly motivated by anti-gypsy racism.
Groups acting on behalf of the Roma community, which has links to Ireland’s gypsy-like Traveller community, said the authorities had acted with callous disregard for the rights of the children and their families.
Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins criticised the actions of the mainstream media, HSE and gardaí. He said the manner they had dealt with the families had shamed the State in the eyes of the world.
He referred to the case in Dublin, in which an openly racist Facebook message apparently motivated the authorities to remove a seven-year-old girl from her family.
The Dublin West TD quoted the Facebook message that: “It’s a big problem with missing kids, the Roma robbing them to get child benefit in Europe”.
He told the Dáil that a journalist, the Garda and HSE had swallowed “the most abysmal ignorance and racial stereotyping -- to the effect that it is impossible to be blond and blue-eyed [and Roma] -- and peremptorily removes that child from its home” in west Dublin. An apparently similar situation took place in the midlands.
An 18-year-old sister of the girl taken from her home in Dublin for two nights was indignant about the way the family had been treated, saying the whole community had been deeply affected..
“They took her just because she had blue eyes and blonde hair,” she said. “Most Romanian people have blue eyes. We were all traumatised. I used to be blonde when I was little, and my mum was blonde when she was little.”
After the little girl was returned to them in Tallaght late on Wednesday, the family told how she had woken up crying and calling for her “mama” during her first night home.
The mother of the girl said she hopes her child will forget the trauma over time.
And in Athlone, County Westmeath, Iancu Muntean told how both his two-year-old son and the boy’s mother had been having difficulty sleeping after the incident. His son had been having nightmares about the Gardaí coming back for him, he said.
The chairwoman of a Roma support group said the treatment of the two families has horrified the Roma community in Ireland and should never be allowed to happen again.
“I certainly believe that they [the HSE and the Gardaí] were racially biased and I am enraged by the way that they acted. Under Irish law, taking a child from its family should be a last resort, not a first resort as happened in both cases here,” said Gina Iordan.
“Many of them came here in the late 1990s to seek asylum and many of them got refugee status – they are hoping for a better life.
“Many of them have come here to escape persecution and racist attacks and abuse and yet they are treated here with the same racial prejudice... parents who have blond-haired children are scared that some people will come and remove their children from them.”
Meanwhile, a police force in Wales has had to issue an unreserved apology after being accused of racism by calling a programme to educate school children about dog mess ‘Operation Irish’.
Local people said it was a throwback to times when Irish people faced discrimination in Britain. Labour MP Paul Flynn, who himself has Irish roots, called it “an act of Olympian stupidity”.
Irish grandmother Lila Haines, who has lived in Cardiff for 40 years, said she was horrified by the gaffe. “It’s particularly insensitive in a city where it has been estimated that up to 30% of the population are of Irish descent,” she said.
In 1960s England, and especially in London, many landlords and owners of bed and breakfasts and boarding houses put signs in their windows stating: “No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish”.