Call for Irish ombudsman to investigate Roma family removals

Rights group demands independent inquiry into why boy and girl were taken away by police and health authorities

Ireland's ombudsman should investigate how the police and health authorities mistakenly took two children from two Roma families because they wrongly believed the boy and girl were victims of trafficking, a human rights organisation has demanded.

Pavee Point, the main advocacy group for the Roma community in Ireland, said an independent inquiry was needed rather than "self-investigation" by the Garda Síochána and the Heath Service Executive.

The seven-year-old girl and two-year-old boy were returned to their families on Wednesday after DNA tests proved their familial relationship.

The father of the boy, who was taken from his home in the Irish midlands by officers on Tuesday, produced a photograph showing that his blond son shared the fair colouring of his maternal grandfather in Romania.

Iancu Muntean was able to speak about the case because a judicial order that barred the other Roma family in Dublin from revealing their names does not apply to the Athlone family.

Muntean, having protested unsuccessfully to garda officers who arrived to take the child, said he told them: "You have the power. I don't have power. What can I do? I don't make trouble."

As his child was being driven away, he told the officers: "Please don't make him cry, please don't make him upset … Please bring my son home, I'll just give you whatever you want, just take me, not my son."

He said his wife and four-year-old daughter were extremely distressed and had been unable to sleep while his son was in the care of the HSE.

The 22-year-old Roma man, who has lived in Ireland since 2005, said he willingly offered DNA samples to prove the child was his son.

Alan Shatter, the Irish justice minister, has asked for a report on the incidents from Martin Callinan, the police commissioner, but said the officers involved had acted in good faith.

Pavee Point, however, stressed the need for a fully independent inquiry into what they described as "two state abductions".

Aisling Twomey, Pavee Point's spokeswoman, said: "We believe that this inquiry needs to go to the office of the ombudsman for complete independence and an entire review of the events of the past few days.

"The framework of that inquiry must take into account the actions of all state authorities to consider how these events came about and what could have, or should have, been done differently. We are pushing for this full and complete independence and anything less is insufficient."

Twomey said the Roma families had received a mixture of "support, concern and vitriol in relation to these cases" through her organisation.

She added: "Racism and discrimination against the Roma have been significant problems long before this news coverage started."

Iancu Muntean senior said he hoped what had happened to his son never happened to another family.


Henry McDonald in Dublin

The GuardianTramp

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