Finding a daughter, then a sister

She was adopted and then at 16 gave up a child for adoption – little wonder Labour TD Anne Ferris is determined to change our archaic laws

  Anne Ferris photographed on the beach at Bray, Co Wicklow,  Photograph: Eric Luke

Anne Ferris photographed on the beach at Bray, Co Wicklow, Photograph: Eric Luke

Sat, Aug 23, 2014, 01:00

Anne Ferris is tough and funny, extremely attractive and a smoker. You can’t help being drawn to her. She is Labour Party TD for the Wicklow-East Carlow constituency. On July 17th, the last day of the Dáil before the interminable summer recess, a debate took place on the Commission of Inquiry into the country’s mother-and-baby homes. The very recently appointed Minister for Children James Reilly, who had just been demoted from his job as Minister for Health, was among the few people in the chamber as Ferris got up to speak.

“I caught his attention right away,” she says. “I’m not terribly emotional usually, but I was surprised – I could feel myself getting emotional as I spoke. I was thinking of all the thousands of people in my situation. ”

Ferris told the almost empty chamber and Reilly about how she had recently met her sister for the first time. Both girls had been placed – separately – for adoption by their mother. They had only just met, in the Merrion Hotel.

“I know,” she says now, “A friend of mine did say that the least the Merrion Hotel could do is send us a voucher or something, after all that free publicity.”

She is unsentimental. A mother, a grandmother and soon to be a bride. “My toyboy,” she says of John Nolan, who she will marry next month. John is eight months younger than she is. “He was a member of Fianna Fáil,” she says. “A real Charlie Haughey man.” The two of them grew up within a mile of each other, John in Walkinstown and Anne in Crumlin. “Went to the same dances and everything.” But they did not know each other then.

Her life is like a romantic novel, and it is only her level-headedness that keeps it from collapsing into high drama. If ever there was a life that illustrated Irish culture’s hysterical fear of female sexuality, and its hypocrisy in leaving women and children to deal with all the consequences of that fear and loathing, that life is hers. Some things have to be read into the Dáil record.

In April of this year, Ferris drafted and presented to the Dáil the Open Adoption Bill 2014. It will guarantee women placing children for adoption some channel of information on, and contact with, their children, as well as information for children on, for example, their medical history. She says she believes this could increase the number of women willing to place their children for adoption. She is pro-choice, in that “I’m in favour of all choices being there for women,” she says.

Her birth mother was from a rural area in the southeast. She was married with three other children, and her husband had left and gone to England. “Some years later she met someone else,” says Ferris. Her mother became pregnant. “She was denounced from the pulpit,” says Ferris.

The solution to this problem came, as it often did, from within the family. “Her sister said that she would take me, whenever I was born. Her sister was living in Dublin with her husband and three kids. So I was reared by them, very, very happily.”

Her birth mother emigrated to England with her three older children and new partner, Ferris’s father. “But before she went England she had another baby [also by Ferris’s father]. My sister was in a mother-and-baby home in the southeast for 18 months. She was adopted by an Irish couple, who were lovely people, and she was their only child. They later went to live in England.”