By Colm McCarthy
The recent cases where two children were taken from their Roma families in Tallaght and Athlone and placed in the care of the HSE by the Gardaí, solely on the grounds that they looked different to their parents, highlights the discrimination that this group faces on a daily basis.
The case happened after a tabloid storm following the discovery in Greece of a blonde haired child being raised by a Roma couple who are not her biological parents, which received extensive coverage. It has now been established that the young girl is also Roma and that her biological mother requested that the Roma family in Greece take her because she was unable to look after her child herself, confirming the family’s original explanation. Of course the search for the truth of the matter was not the concern of the mass media and in its absence they decided to fill in the blanks, with old libels that associated certain ethnic groups stealing children, most frequently in folklore being the Jews and Roma.
This media-manufactured witch-hunt soon spread to Ireland leading to the seven year old daughter of a Tallaght couple and two year old from Athlone, who as they had blonde hair and blue eyes were therefore deemed sufficiently worthy to justify the suspicion that they had been kidnapped.
In the case in Dublin, the Gardaí were alerted to the case by a message sent to the Paul Connolly Investigates on the TV3 facebook page. Connolly had previously made a documentary focusing on the Roma community called “Ireland’s Bogus Beggars” in 2011. His own investigation concluded that there was no evidence that there was criminal enterprise with large profits being made from organised begging gangs, in his own words; “the only extreme is the poverty and desperation in a community struggling to survive.”
This hadn’t prevented him from spending the previous 45 minutes of the programme making insinuations about swarms of Roma gangs profiting handsomely from organised begging rings and assembling a cast of tabloid journalists, establishment politicians and white supremacists that made statements to this effect. The fact that the facebook message was openly bigoted – claiming that Roma robbed children in order to claim child benefit – apparently set off no alarm-bells with the reporter, who appeared on Tuesday proudly outlining his role in the whole incident.
They then proceeded to report the incident to the Gardaí anyway. The girl was taken from her family on Monday afternoon and only released back to her family on Wednesday after the DNA tests had been confirmed. This whole incident is understandably said to have left the young girl traumatised.
There has been an attempt by the establishment to explain this away as a mistake made with the best of intentions, where child protection concerns existed. However this doesn’t stack up when you take into account that in both cases, the families had other children who the Garda and HSE felt comfortable enough to leave them with their family, while they took the two children into state care while the blood tests were carried out.
In the Athlone case this was even more pronounced as the family claimed to have provided all requested documentation, yet their child was still taken into state care. It cannot be understood outside of the family being members of a minority group, who despite their long history of oppression, it remains acceptable to pillory.
This history of oppression reached its nadir in the Holocaust, where estimates of the total number of Roma (as well as other groups of dark skinned migrants who originated over a millenia before) systematically killed by Nazi or Nazi allied regimes range from 500,000 to 1,500,000. That this attempt at annihilation of a race wasn’t even formally acknowledged in West Germany until nearly 40 years after the war is a sign of how disempowered the Roma remain. The Roma continue to suffer massive discrimination both in the regions of South East Europe that they are most associated with and in Western Europe, where they have been targeted for deportation by right-wing politicians like Nicolas Sarkozy.
The Socialist Party stands against the right-wing scurrilous ”journalism” that stereotypes and vilifies any minority ethnic or religious group, as well as state racism. Both of which scapegoat and victimise vulnerable and marginalised groups in society, detracting from the urgent need to build a united movement of the working class and all oppressed groups against the common enemy of austerity, bank bailouts and the rule of the super-rich.