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Burton reveals birth mother sadness

Minister given photo on first day of Dail

By Jerome Reilly, Sunday Independent,  March 13 2011

New minister Joan Burton yesterday shrugged off controversy over not being appointed to a finance portfolio and revealed her deep emotion about being sent a photograph of her birth mother on the day she was appointed to Cabinet.

The new Minister for Social Protection, who was put up for adoption shortly after her birth in 1949, spoke of trying to trace her mother only to discover that she had died many years before.

She was being pressed by RTE's Charlie Bird on whether she was disappointed with the role she had been given when she revealed that being sent a photograph of her birth mother on the day the new Government was formed had made her deeply reflective.

"I received a little personal note and a photograph just before I walked over to meet Eamon Gilmore to be told about my appointment. I opened the note during the course of the first Dail session and found a picture of my birth mother. I had that letter in my hand when I met Eamon, and that was personally extremely emotional.

"It was the first picture I had seen of her as a woman in her late 40s or 50s. I had seen photographs of her when she was much older but I had never seen her as a woman in her 40s. I felt in a way that this photograph was a talisman,' Ms Burton said.

"I was adopted by the Burtons into a very big Dublin family. My dad was an iron moulder, as his dad had been before him, in the foundry works in Inchicore and my adoptive mother Bridie was a great champion of me," she said.

"I wanted to find out about my background. I had tried down through the years, when I married and when my daughter was born to try and check up and maybe, I thought, just send a message: 'I'm ok. I did ok. I hope you are all ok' but it wasn't possible to do that. That was what Ireland was like in the Seventies and Eighties.

"The culture changed a bit in the Nineties so I took the opening and. . . I did a bit of chasing and found that my birth mother had died by then unfortunately but I found lots of relatives in Ireland and in America, so it was a big voyage of discovery," she added.

Ms Burton insisted she was "very honoured and awed" to have been included in the Cabinet, adding she felt she was qualified enough to do most of the jobs in the Cabinet.

She said she had received messages of sympathy from people who thought she should have been appointed to one of the two ministries at the Department of Finance, which now includes a ministry of Public Expenditure.

But yesterday she denied she was disappointed with her appointment to the Department of Social Protection, though she admitted she was at first a little bewildered when it was mentioned by Mr Gilmore.

A Sunday Independent /Quantum Research telephone poll found that 57 per cent of voters believe that she was unfairly treated by leader Eamon Gilmore.

The poll showed that opinion is divided over whether the decision was related to gender or related to the internal politics of the Labour party. But 43 per cent did not think she was unfairly treated. A significant number pointed to her performance on the Vincent Brown Show on TV3 as a reason for her "demotion" in the Cabinet.

"I was qualified -- I am qualified -- to be a minister in any department in the Government," Ms Burton said.

"My mindset was that I was going to be in the Cabinet, and whatever it was, I was going to do a good job. I'd been immersed completely, as everybody knows, in the banking and the finance situation," she added, explaining that she had been given around 90 seconds to consider the offer.

"The difficulty for me was, having been so concentrated on the economy and on the banks, and on the structures and renegotiation of the [bailout] deal, I then had this challenge ... [but] I was asked to be a member of the Government, and I accepted."


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“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning . . . and the most disquieting loneliness." 

Alex Haley, Author of Roots 





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