Reports on Roma cases to be referred to Ombudsman for Children

Thursday 24 October 2013 23.58
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Alan Shatter said there was possibly some undue influence in the decisions that were made
Alan Shatter said there was possibly some undue influence in the decisions that were made
Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan will furnish a report to the Minister for Justice
Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan will furnish a report to the Minister for Justice

Separate reports by gardaí and the Health Service Executive on the cases involving two Roma children removed from their families are to be sent to the Minister for Justice and the Minister for Children.

Responding to calls for an independent inquiry into the matter, Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said the reports would be referred to Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan.

Ms Fitzgerald also said there was a need for a detailed review of precisely what happened and she wanted to ensure that people continued to report child protection issues.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said Ms Logan will independently examine the cases and the report will be made public. 

Mr Shatter also revealed that there have been 532 cases so far this year where children have been removed from their families. 

He said Section 12 of the Child Care Act was used over 700 times in the years 2010, 2011, and 2012.

Mr Shatter repeated that he believes gardaí acted in good faith but said it was important no group was singled out for child protection issues.

The minister was responding to a number of TDs who called for an independent inquiry to take place to ascertain what happened.

Labour's Aodhán Ó Ríordáin described it as an appalling scenario and said pure, raw racism lay at its core.

United Left Alliance TD Clare Daly said the only conclusion to be made was that racial profiling was followed in the two cases.

Deputies were also highly critical of the media coverage of the cases.

It comes after a two-year-old boy was temporarily removed from his family in Athlone, Co Kildare and a seven-year-old was taken from her family in Tallaght, Dublin amid concerns raised over their identities.

The children were removed from their Roma families after gardaí used their powers under the Child Care Act and placed them in HSE care.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the situation was not about any group or minority, but was about the welfare and safety of children, and there was a balance to be struck.

Lessons to be learned

Speaking this morning on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Shatter said there was possibly some undue influence in the decisions that were made.

But he said that in the past, gardaí had been criticised for not acting quickly enough, so they are damned if they do and damned if they do not.

Mr Shatter said the families and children involved had clearly been involved in a traumatic situation.

He said it is important that any lessons that needed to be learned are learned and that any procedural changes that may have to be implemented are implemented.

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan is to give a report to Mr Shatter on the backgrounds and procedures followed in the cases.

The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has written to Mr Shatter requesting a copy of the report.

The commission said it had made the request to be fully informed of the circumstances surrounding the events so it can take an appropriate position.

Mr Shatter said he was relieved and pleased that the concerns of the authorities in the two cases proved unfounded and the children had been reunited with their families.

The family of the two-year-old boy in Athlone are seeking an explanation from gardaí.

The family in Dublin say they do not accept there was a sufficient basis to take their daughter away and will be taking legal advice.

The removal of the children has caused widespread public and political concern.

Garda Headquarters said the protection of vulnerable children is of paramount concern and in all cases immediate steps are taken to protect the welfare of the child.

Special Rapporteur for Children Geoffrey Shannon said the question of an independent inquiry should be considered after the Children's Ombudsman reports on the issue. 

Mr Shannon emphasised that the role of gardaí and not the HSE should be central to any review.

The investigation should focus on the evidence available to gardaí that justified the use of the emergency power to remove the child without a warrant and any protocol used in arriving at this decision, he added.

Mr Shannon also expressed concern that people would be reluctant to report legitimate concerns, which he said would set child protection back by a decade.