ERRC Welcomes Irish Government’s Apology and Hopes this Will Set an Example for All Governments
Budapest, Dublin, 2 July 2014: The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) welcomes the Irish Government’s multiple apologies regarding the unlawful removal of two Romani children from their families in October 2013 and the publication of the report by the Ombudsman for Children on the same matter. The ERRC urges the Irish authorities to develop the necessary policy and legal mechanisms, as suggested in the Ombudsman’s report, to ensure full integration of Roma in society. The ERRC further expects all measures to be taken to ensure unlawful removal of children does not occur in the future.
In October 2013, the Irish police (An Garda Síochána) removed two Romani children, a two-year-old boy in Westmeath and a seven-year-old girl in Dublin, from their families, because they looked different than the other family members. This happened shortly after Greek security forces removed a child, who became known as 'Maria' , from her Romani family on the basis that she was blond-haired and blue-eyed. After positive DNA tests, the Irish authorities returned the two children to their families. In December 2013, the Ombudsman for Children was appointed by the then-Minister for Justice to inquire into the removal cases.
The Ombudsman’s Office yesterday made public its report that revealed the findings of this special inquiry. The report established that ethnic profiling played a role in the process which led to the removal of the Romani boy from his family. The report, critical of the law enforcement agencies’ handling of the cases, emphasised that “physical dissimilarities between parents and their children do not constitute a reasonable basis for suspecting that such children have been abducted.” The report calls for an apology to both families and for the appointment of a Roma cultural mediator, among other recommendations to improve the situation of Roma in Ireland.
The expected apology also came yesterday. The Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Enda Kenny extended his apologies in the Parliament directly to the families by saying, “It's not acceptable that these events happened… I do apologise to those families, particularly the children who had to put up with these events." The new Minster for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, also expressed an apology to the families on behalf of the government by stating that, “It should not have happened”. Another apology came from the acting Garda Commissioner, Noirín O'Sullivan, who stated, “It's important, not just to apologise on behalf of the police service, but to express the concerns of each of our members over what happened.”
The ERRC Chair of the Board, Rob Kushen, welcomed the apology of the government but noted that neither the Greek nor Irish cases are just individual and random events. “What happened in Greece and Ireland is just the reflection of a racist public discourse in many European countries. Racial profiling, fuelled with negative stereotypes and prejudices as well as by racist comments by public officials, is a major obstacle for full integration of Roma”. Kushen added that he hopes other governments, especially Greece, follow the example of the Government of Ireland to address the problem by establishing a special inquiry and extending apologies based on the findings of those inquiries as appropriate.
The Ombudsman’s report clearly suggests that the negative media coverage of the “Maria case” affected the process in Ireland. The ERRC would like to highlight again that some media organisations immediately drew the conclusion that the children were “stolen” without proper facts, and calls upon media to report in an unbiased way. The media frenzy contributed to an outcome that is hardly in the best interests of the child. The ERRC reiterates its call for media to avoid crude and negative racial stereotypes, react in a considered and measured way, and avoid reaching conclusions on such cases before the facts have been established.
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Media and Communications Officer
European Roma Rights Centre