Police in Ireland have been accused of racism after DNA tests proved that two blond children taken from their Roma gypsy parents were rightfully theirs.
Detectives were responding to public tip offs fueled by media coverage of the alleged child abduction case involving blonde-haired girl Maria and a family of Roma in Greece.
In both cases, police suspected that the children, a seven-year-old girl from Dublin and two-year-old Iancu Munteau from Athlone, might be victims of abduction because they were blond haired and blue eyed unlike the rest of their immediate family.
Garda commissioner Martin Callinan has now been ordered to produce a report explaining why the two children were taken from their families.
Ireland’s Ombudsman for Children is also to investigate the issue.
Emily Logan will be given the report from the Garda Commissioner as well as one from the Health Service Executive (HSE) in two weeks’ time and will review the circumstances which led to Irish police removing the children from their homes.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter told lawmakers he was ‘pleased and relieved’ that the children had been returned to their homes.
He said: ‘We must all be particularly conscious of the regrettable distress that arose for the two families and their children.’
He defended the need for police and child welfare officers to remove children from potentially dangerous homes, but cautioned that Irish authorities must ensure ‘that no group or minority community is singled out for unwarranted suspicion in relation to child protection issues.’
He said that he believes that police were acting ‘in good faith’ when they took the children and said that he is keen to ensure that lessons have been learned.
But Dublin-based support group for gypsies, Pavee Point, has accused the police of racial profiling.
On Monday, police went to one Roma family’s home in southwest Dublin and sought the passport and birth certificate of the seven-year-old girl.
The family produced them, but police opted to issue an emergency child protection order and placed the child in state care.
Police said the Romanian passport was not useful because it had a baby photo, not the girl’s current appearance, while the birth certificate did not match Dublin hospital records.
On Tuesday, police in the midlands town of Athlone went to another Roma family’s home and asked both parents to provide mouth-swab samples from their son and themselves.
The boy then was taken away by social workers overnight and returned the next day after the child’s parentage was confirmed.
Iancu Munteau’s father, also called Iancu, told reporters he had assured police that other relatives also had blond hair and blue eyes. He said his wife couldn’t sleep all night and the boy’s older sister cried much of the night.
The Dublin family’s lawyer, Waheed Mudah, issued a statement outside the Family Court accusing the police of acting without justifiable cause.
Mudah said his clients were ‘very conscious of the fact that this case has been linked’ with the Greek child-abduction case, ‘which has nothing to do with them’.
He said his clients hoped parents across Ireland would ‘consider how they would feel if one of their children was taken away in similar circumstances for similar reasons. They hope no other family has to go through the experience they have suffered’.
Pavee Point, a Dublin-based support group for Gypsies, said the police were guilty of racial profiling and child abduction.
The group’s co-director, Martin Collins, said he feared that more children of Roma parents who are not dark-skinned and have brown eyes could be taken away for DNA tests.
He said: ‘It’s outrageous. It’s despicable.’
In a statement the Garda Siochana force defended its actions as consistent with child-protection laws.
The statement added; ‘We take extremely serious(ly) all reports received from members of the public concerning child welfare issues.’
Interpol has still been unable to identify Maria, who was found living with a Roma couple in Farsala last week.
She was found living with a couple, Elefthena Dimopoulou and Hristos Salis, who told police and prosecutors they had received the blond girl from a destitute Bulgarian woman and had brought her up with their own five children.
They have been charged with abduction and document fraud, and have been jailed awaiting trial.
DNA checks on Interpol’s missing children’s register has so far failed to find a match with Maria.