Sunday 25 February 2018

Joan Burton opens up on childhood fear of being taken from adoptive parents and losing her mother to cancer on Gay Byrne's 'Meaning of Life'

Tánaiste Joan Burton outside Government Buildings
Tánaiste Joan Burton outside Government Buildings
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

Tanaiste Joan Burton has opened up about her childhood fears of being taken from her adoptive family by social services.

Speaking to Gay Byrne for his compelling Meaning of Life series, the Tanaiste revealed she was adopted by parents John and Bridie from the Sisters of Charity and raised in Rialto in Dublin.

Despite growing up in a loving home, Joan said that working class people of that time lived with the fear that social workers could take their children away.

"It was quite a strong community," she said.  "Everybody lived so close together that everybody kind of knew a lot about each other.  When the ladies came to look at me and check me out, and I didn't really understand this at the time, the whole street got involved in feeding me."

She said she was "probably a bit thin" and that there was "an awful fear in those days that children could be taken away.

"There was always that question.  You could understand a fear perhaps social workers would step in.

"Particularly among working-class people, there was quite a strong inherited fear.  My dad's mother had died when he was 12 years old and he was the oldest of four.  I know that their dad, my grandfather, kept an iron discipline for fear that anybody would take them."

She joked that she is still always "nervous" with social workers.

Joan also spoke about the pain of losing her beloved mother Bridie to cancer when Joan was just 20.

"It was very, very difficult for us at the time," revealed Joan.  "She had developed cancer of the oesophagus.  Even today, while treatments are developing, it is still a challenge.

"You do everything that you think you can to help, but pain relief really wasn't there at that time.

"But her family used to rally around.  They used to come in the evening and give me a break to study.  Luckily I was at college and I held on to that very, very tightly and got through the other side."

Last week Hozier discussed his views on the Catholic Church with Gay Byrne and other interviewees featuring this series include Richard Dawkins and Sister Stanislaus Kennedy.

The Meaning of Life featuring Joan Burton airs on RTE One at 10.35pm on Sunday October 4.

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