Gaffe

10.23.13

Blonde Child Reunited With Roma Family After Irish Police Blunder

Irish police are backpedaling after seizing a young blonde girl from a gypsy camp—only to find that she was with her rightful parents all along. Tom Sykes talks to the family.

A blonde Roma child was reunited with her parents in Dublin today after being seized three days ago by Irish police who wrongly believed she may have been abducted.

Officials took the 7-year-old child into custody after reading a comment that was posted on the Facebook page of an Irish television show casting doubt on her parentage. The over-reaction came in the wake of a kidnapping case in Greece, in which a girl called Maria was discovered living with a Roma family in Greece. Her "parents" have been arrested and accused of abducting the child from her real parents.

In Ireland, the distraught parents were given their child back after a DNA test confirmed that they were a real family. The girl's 21-year-old elder sister told The Daily Beast: "We are going to have a big party tonight to celebrate her homecoming."

The sister was dressed in traditional Roma dress—covered in a pink, furry, polka dot dressing gown. She said she "never doubted" her sister would come home as "we had all the proofs." The family was devastated by the ordeal, however, and the woman, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, said her mother had not eaten for three days.

The girl was reunited with her mother at a Dublin police station after 72 hours of enforced separation. "She was very upset," said the sister. "It was an emotional meeting she was crying. It was wonderful also."

The extraordinary story had taken a bizarre twist earlier in the day when it emerged that she had been removed from her family after a comment made on the Facebook page of the television show Paul Connolly Investigates.

TV3, the station which broadcasts the show, told The Daily Beast they were obliged to "take seriously" anything that affected the safety of a child and "notified gardai [the Irish police]," leaving the matter in their hands.

The DNA results were a huge embarrassment to the Irish police, who have been accused of racism for questioning the identity of a child on the basis of her hair and eye color.

Questions about the police's behavior intensified on Wednesday when it emerged that another child had been seized by police. Officials confirmed to The Daily Beast that a 2-year-old boy was removed from another family in the town of Athlone on Tuesday. Police gave no details about why the child was taken or the ethnicity of his family, but the state broadcaster RTE said they were Roma. The boy has now been released back to his family.

Pavee Point, an Irish traveler rights organization, said it had been infuriated by the police's actions. “Pavee Point are concerned about witch-hunts against a vulnerable community and old stereotypes of an entire community being propagated in the media coverage of this development," a spokesman said.

The Gardai refused to comment, citing child protection laws.

Friends of the girl's family told The Daily Beast that the child was taken because of her appearance. "That is the main reason. This is not enough to take a child. Now this case is giving the Roma a very bad name here and all over the world," said one man who wished to remain anonymous.

The family home, in a run-down Dublin suburb, has two CCTV cameras mounted on the walls, in an attempt to deter Irish travelers from breaking their windows with stones, said the family friend, who did not want to be named.

Many neighbors were unsympathetic. "I've no time for the Roma gypsies," said one who was cleaning his car.

Editor's note: This article has been updated throughout to reflect developing news. It was originally published at 6 a.m. on Oct. 23.