Doc on One: Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes

DOC - Maria Image Name: DOC - Maria
DOC - 2yr old Iancu Muntean (Athlone) Image Name: DOC - 2yr old Iancu Muntean (Athlone)

By the time her mystery was solved, Irish authorities had wrongly removed two children from their homes and their parents.

Documentary On One: Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes tells the story of this extraordinary week.

On Monday, 21st October 2013, an Irish journalist spotted a message that had been posted to the Facebook account of his show on TV3. The message said that a child with blonde hair and blue eyes was living in the home of a Roma family on her estate in Tallaght, County Dublin. The author of the post said she suspected the child had been abducted and used to claim social welfare. The journalist passed it on to An Garda Siochana. Before the day was out, the child, a seven year old blonde haired, blue eyed girl had been taken from her home by Gardai and placed in care.

But that wasn’t all. The following day a two year old Roma boy, also with blonde hair and blue eyes was placed in the back of a squad car on his own and taken from his family’s home in Athlone.

Both children had had anomalies in documentation but both were removed while Gardai investigated whether they were living with their rightful parents.

On the very next day, DNA tests in both cases confirmed that the children had been taken from their rightful patents by the authorities and were immediately returned.

A huge mistake had been made. A year later – following a report by the Children’s Ombudsman, Emily Logan- the Taoiseach, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Garda Commissioner all apologised to the two families. They have since been compensated by the state.

There was a context to this. Something had happened the previous Wednesday that had put the world on tenterhooks. On that day. Greek police seized a girl, again with the same colouring, from a Roma camp outside Athens. She was living with a family who were not her parents. They put her in the care of a charity called The Smile of the Child  Foundation and gave her the pseudonym ‘Maria.’

That event had summoned up a wave of hysteria that gripped the international media for eight days. The parents of dozens of missing children around the world claimed the child must be theirs. By Friday the 25thOctober it had been established that Maria had not been abducted. Her Bulgarian mother had been found and confirmed that she gave Maria to the Roma couple in Greece because she was too poor to look after her.

And so the case was closed but by the time the dust had settled, two Irish Roma children and their families had been traumatized by events that seemed driven by the fact that neither child looked like their parents. Both children had an albino gene, well known to be in the Roma community. It simply gave them…blonde hair, blue eyes.

 

Narrated by Donal O’Herlihy

Produced by Donal O’Herlihy and Liam O’Brien

RTÉ Radio 1  Saturday 7th July 2018 @1pm

Repeated on RTÉ Radio 1 Sunday 8th July 2018 @7pm