DUBLIN — Two blond children who were taken by Irish police from their Romanian Gypsy parents were returned Wednesday to their families after DNA tests determined that the children were rightfully theirs, an episode that raised accusations of racism.
The Irish police were responding to public tipoffs fueled by media coverage of an alleged child-abduction case in Greece involving a blond-haired girl and a family of Gypsies, known as Roma.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter told lawmakers he was "pleased and relieved" that the children had been returned to their homes. He ordered the police commander, Commissioner Martin Callinan, to produce a report explaining why officers felt it necessary to take the children — a 2-year-old boy and a 7-year-old girl — from their families.
"We must all be particularly conscious of the regrettable distress that arose for the two families and their children," Shatter said.
He defended the need for police and child welfare officers to remove children from potentially dangerous homes, but cautioned that Irish authorities must ensure "that no group or minority community is singled out for unwarranted suspicion in relation to child protection issues."
In both cases, police suspected the children might be victims of abductions because they were blond-haired and blue-eyed, unlike their immediate relatives.
An estimated 5,000 Roma have settled over the past decade in Ireland, where many have been linked to organized street-begging rackets involving children.
On Monday, police went to one Roma family's home in southwest Dublin and sought the passport and birth certificate of the girl. The family produced them, but police opted to issue an emergency child protection order and place the child in state care. Police said the Romanian passport was not useful because it had a baby photo, not the girl's current appearance, while the birth certificate did not match Dublin hospital records.
On Tuesday, police in the midlands town of Athlone went to another Roma family's home and asked both parents to provide mouth-swab samples from their son and themselves. The boy then was taken away by social workers overnight and returned the next day after the child's parentage was confirmed.