Roma children and State power

The recent ‘child removal’ cases are a worrying development, writes Mary Kenny

Apart from a couple of honourable exceptions – such as David Quinn of this parish – I thought most commentators got the emphasis quite wrong about the two Roma children who were taken, albeit briefly, from their families in Athlone and Dublin by gardaí and the HSE.

Much concern was expressed about the implicit racism behind the authorities’ actions. A common view was that gypsy people – as Roma were originally called – were being picked on and discriminated against.


It is unacceptable to treat any group of people unfairly or unkindly, but the ethnicity of the families is not the most troubling aspect of this episode, it seems to me. The most alarming element is that the State has the power to enter the family realm and take the DNA of one of its children on the grounds of some speculative rumour.

These children were taken from their families not because abuse or cruelty or neglect were suspected: but for the alarmingly reason that they were blond, and “didn’t look like” other members of their family.


The idea that a police force can remove a child because of that child’s appearance is, surely, an appalling invasion of private life, with a sinisterly eugenic overtone, since fair hair represents the ‘Aryan’.

Yet checking out Facebook, I noticed that quite a few people thought it was a perfectly acceptable approach. After all, perhaps Madeleine McCann might be recovered if the authorities could take the DNA of each and every family at will?

The late John Charles McQuaid warned, back in the 1950s, that State power would eventually become overweening: that was his main objection to the famous Mother and Child Bill.

He certainly wasn’t right about everything – he was intolerant of Trinity College Dublin and rather daftly opposed women participating in athletics. But his views on the dangers of the State invading every aspect of private life may yet prove to have been prescient.


Keeping to tradition

A London friend came to Dublin at the beginning of the week and was puzzled to find that it was a ëBank Holidayí in the Republic of Ireland. Why? ñ he asked.

So I explained why, as best I could. ìIn many parts of Europe, All Saintsí Day, on November 1, is marked by a public holiday. In France, a secular republic, this is a an important day of the year ñ le Toussaint. In Poland, the experience of All Saintsí Day is extraordinary:  families visit the cemetaries in great numbers to remember their dead, with candle-lit ceremonies.

ìIreland traditionally marked All Saintsí Day too, in the mainstream of that European tradition, but to show that Ireland is now moving towards modernised secularism, our masters have decided to replace this Christian feast with a Bank Holiday.î I see, he said, still somewhat baffled.

But then the British have the national self-confidence not to chuck away their old traditions, as evidenced by the attractive and elaborate christening of baby Prince George, celebrated with great enthusiasm by the populace.


Unusual adoptions

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore is keen to allow gay couples to adopt babies and children. I believe we should have an open mind about adoption, and no group of people should be deliberately ruled in or deliberately ruled out, because the most surprising individuals can be good parents.

Richard Burton

I often think of the actor Richard Burton, who was informally adopted by a local schoolteacher in Wales, because his mother had died and the father found it difficult to cope.  Burton was born Richard Jenkins, but he took the name Burton from his foster-parent, a bachelor, who raised him. This bachelor schoolteacher imbued in Richard Burton a love of Shakespeare and set him on the road to being the finest Hamlet of his generation (listen to him reciting Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood on CD: one of the most beautiful voices ever heard.) Had it not been for that schoolteacher, Richard Burton would have worked all his life in the coalmines like his brothers.

The brilliant comedienne Sandra Bullock (pictured), similarly, adoped a baby in the US, just as her marriage was breaking up. She’s 49 and single, but her Afro-American baby son is now the centre of her life.

Unusual adoptions – which don’t conform to the ideal of the two-parent heterosexual couple – can work out well for the child, if the adopter commits wholeheartedly to the child. However, if Mr Gilmore would like to maximise the chances for gay couples – or any couples – adopting, the most constructive thing he could do is try and discourage abortion. There is a near-universal shortage of babies to adopt because of the practice of terminating pregnancies. I would predict that public concern about the abduction of young children will grow as the shortage of infants becomes ever more apparent.