Anne Ferris (59) tells of recent first meeting with sister

Mother-and-baby homes inquiry must be all-encompassing and honest, says TD

In a poignant speech to the Dáil, Labour TD Anne Ferris (59) said  “before that day two weeks ago, I had never laid eyes on my sister”.  Photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times

In a poignant speech to the Dáil, Labour TD Anne Ferris (59) said “before that day two weeks ago, I had never laid eyes on my sister”. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times

Thu, Jul 17, 2014, 17:43

A Government backbencher has spoken of her first meeting with her sister just two weeks ago.

In a poignant speech to the Dáil, Labour TD Anne Ferris (59) said that “before that day two weeks ago, I had never laid eyes on my sister.

“It was the first time we had ever shared a pot of tea. Each of us was adopted from a different mother-and-baby home into different families, and eventually we ended up living in different countries.”

Sitting together they looked like sisters but did not talk like sisters, she said with emotion.

“Where other sisters in our age group have shared experiences and a shared family history, we just have had a long gap in our lives,” Ms Ferris said.

“I never played childhood games with this sister. I never fought with her over toys. We never skipped together or climbed trees. She was not handed down my old clothes. We did not go to school together or to discos and nor did we fight over boys. She does not know my children and I have never met hers. We look very alike but thus far, that is the only aspect of our lives that we share.”

Speaking of their shared mother, the Wicklow TD said that women who had more than one baby in a mother-and-baby home were frequently obliged to serve time in a Magdalen laundry. “Perhaps our mother managed to avoid such a sentence by not choosing the same home twice for her confinement.”

She referred to research published last week that in the year she was born (1954), more than 60 per cent of women who served two Dublin laundries died while there.

The day after she met her younger sister for the first time, Ms Ferris met three women born in the 1960s who spent their entire childhood in religious-run institutions.

“Their fathers were doctors and black, while their mothers were Irish and white. These mixed-race Irish children were not considered by the church or the State to be appropriate candidates for adoption. Their stories of racial discrimination, physical abuse and mental abuse are truly shocking.”

She said many other people with similar backgrounds have not yet had the opportunity to have their voices and stories heard and that was why the commission on mother-and-baby homes “must be a broad and all-embracing inquiry”.

The mother-and-baby homes, adoption processes, Magdalen laundries, private nursing homes, county homes, church hierarchies, religious organisations and the State all are part of a very large jigsaw puzzle that must be considered in its entirety, she said.

“Until this is done openly, honestly and comprehensively, the gaps in the lives of families all over the country cannot begin to be filled.”

She also urged Minister for Children James Reilly to honour a commitment from his predecessor Charlie Flanagan to prioritise adoption legislation and to hold committee hearings on both closed and open adoptions as part of the process.