Mixed race children and their mothers seek to add to inquiry

Some mixed-race Irish children were not considered fit for adoption

Evon Brennan and Rosemary Adaser, two of the founders of Mixed Race Irish, a campaign for the recognition of mixed race Irish people who suffered racist abuse in institutional care.

Evon Brennan and Rosemary Adaser, two of the founders of Mixed Race Irish, a campaign for the recognition of mixed race Irish people who suffered racist abuse in institutional care.

 

Last month, during a discussion on the forthcoming commission of investigation into mother-and-baby homes, Anne Ferris put on the Dáil record the experiences of mixed-race children who, like her, spent time in such institutions.

“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,” the Wicklow TD said.

In the same address, Ms Ferris called for the upcoming inquiry to be “broad and all-embracing” to allow all those who had spent time in mother-and-baby homes and similar institutions to be “offered the opportunity to have their voices and stories heard”.

It is a call fully supported by the Mixed Race Irish campaign – co-founded by Rosemary Adaser and twin sisters Carole and Evon Brennan – the aim of which is to raise awareness of the abuses suffered by mixed-race children in institutional care in Ireland.

Since its official launch last September, the organisation’s membership has grown from 20 to about 35 members who now live in Ireland, the UK, the US and China.

The group says that, to date, it has identified more than 50 mixed-race Irish who spent time in such institutions but estimates that up to four times that figure were housed in such settings.

Those who have made contact with the group have reported common experiences despite being raised in a range of institutions across the country: racist slurs, physical abuse and, among the 60 per cent female membership, sexism and sexual stereotyping.

Issues ‘airbrushed’

Carole Brennan

Ms Brennan, who spent time in a Dublin mother and baby home before being transferred to the industrial school in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, and later to Banada Abbey in Sligo, says a large percentage of mixed-race children spent time in mother and baby homes before being moved to other institutions.

“I would suspect that in those mother and baby homes that we would not have been treated very well. I would expect that there were deaths among mixed-race Irish children and I would like to know how many. Those are the kind of questions that need to be asked,” Ms Brennan says.

The group also wants answers around the adoption process as it relates to mixed-race children, claiming that in many instances they were not considered for adoption or fostering.

“We were just dumped in these abysmal institutions, the absolute lowest of the low . . . No effort was made to foster or adopt us,” Ms Adaser, who spent time in St Patrick’s Home on the Navan Road in Dublin before being transferred to St Joseph’s in Kilkenny at age six, says.

She adds that the experience of the mothers of mixed-race children, both by society and within the institutions, also needs to be examined.

‘Degradation’

Ms Adaser says her own story echoes a common experience shared by the group’s membership which can be summed up in four brief statements: “Not loved, not valued, not worthy, not welcome.”

“You grew up and you learn to keep your eyes lowered because if you raise your eyes . . . you don’t know whether you’re going to get an insult or a box in the ear,” she says.

“You were constantly being told you’re not worthy . . . ‘your soul is black, your skin is black’,” she says of her childhood, adding that she recently compiled a list of about 20 names she was called on a regular basis.

Ms Adaser says the early experiences of Mixed Race Irish members had a profound and continuing effect on them: “There are a lot higher levels of suicide among our group, serious mental health issues.”

She says recent revelations around the Children’s Home in Tuam, where 796 child deaths occurred over 36 years, have been difficult for the group. However, she says that, in order to address these issues their experiences need to be acknowledged and addressed.

“It brings up painful memories. But there is also a real desire to heal. It sounds a cliche but the truth really does set you free...it’s only through acknowledgement that the healing process can begin.”

Ms Brennan, who as well as co-founding the Mixed Race Irish campaign also set up a service for older Irish survivors of institutional abuse and holds a master’s degree in psychology, says the colour-specific nature of the abuse and the lack of identity this group experienced is a specific issue that should be addressed.

“We don’t compare ourselves to white survivors or say our pain is worse or less than theirs [but] our experience is specific . . . racism in and of itself creates a lot of psychological issues which are very, very far-reaching,” she said.