Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Return To Child Removal

Ireland is once again searching its soul following the removal of two Roma children from their parents because someone thought there was not enough of a family resemblence to preclude a case of gypsy kidnapping.

The nation has a very ugly history of child removal, going back decades. The crime back then was not one of appearance, but of poverty, and generations of Irish children were traumatized to an incomprehensible degree. Fall-out from the industrial school system continues to reverberate, at a cost to the Irish taxpayer in the form of redress and at a cost to the victims that cannot be calculated.

There was a time when a busy-body neighbor could mention a particular family to the parish priest, to point at a widow trying to raise children when the newly minted Constitution all but banned women from working. It could be that a man was seen coming and going, a hint of illicit sex and affairs, and as easily as obtaining a court order, the children were taken and locked away from their mother and some perceived immorality.

Busy-bodies continue to exist, but lately they are set off by what they think is a possible kidnapping case. What made these two recent cases particularly troubling is that the lesson of the industrial school scandal does not seem to have been learned. On the basis of a single complaint, or one individual weaving fantasies, a child was removed from its home and put into the care of strangers. The gardai went along with it, giving credence to something as absurd as an impression made by someone unqualified to judge family ties.

The Ombudsman for Children has been tasked with examining the two incidents, to see how things went as far as they did.

The potential child kidnapping in Greece turned out to be a genuine legal issue, one in which the parents were not in the least related to the little girl they claimed as their own. In Ireland, the children were removed because someone thought they didn't look like the parents. One eejit got wound up looking at the news coverage and one eejit was taken seriously when the authorities should have done more than take his or her word.

While it was wrong that the children were made to suffer needlessly, the State has some concerns over its own image as well.

That is not the image that any country wishes to project when it is trying to attract investment from foreign companies who would be sending their foreign employees with their foreign families to live among people with nothing better to do than stir up trouble.

Back in the days of State-Church collusion in child removals, all it took was a parish priest deciding that a child was at risk of moral taint. The country has not come far if the gardai can instigate a removal for the same weak evidence. To be sure, those who lodged complaints both now and in the past were convinced that they were doing what was best.

They did not know what was best. We rely on those in authority to sort out the good from the bad, and the authorites failed.

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