Labour TD Ferris will not lose whip for abstaining on vote
The Labour Party has said no disciplinary action will be taken against Wicklow TD Anne Ferris after she abstained in a Dáil vote on the establishment of a Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.
Ms Ferris, who has spoken about her own personal experience of mother and baby homes, had let her party know for some time that she had problems with the plan for the commission being brought forward by Minister for Children James Reilly.
In particular, Ms Ferris had issues with the commission’s terms referring solely to single mothers, when separated mothers and widowed mothers were also residents of such homes. She also expressed concerns that not all the institutions of this nature were covered in the terms of reference.
Ms Ferris initially indicated to the party leadership that she would vote against the proposal in the Dáil.
However, in his speech on Wednesday night Dr Reilly went some distance in addressing the concerns raised by Ms Ferris. It is thought that for this reason she abstained in the vote rather than voting against the Government.
Only 14 institutions will be included in the commission’s remit and the inquiry will not include Westbank, which Ms Ferris specifically referred to in her Dáil speech this week.
Labour leader and Tánaiste Joan Burton signalled well in advance of the speech that no disciplinary action would be taken against Ms Ferris despite the standard response where the parliamentary party whip is removed from deputies who abstain or vote against their party.
In her own speech, Ms Burton referred to how deeply personal the matter was for Ms Ferris. “She expressed her difficulty with the draft order because she does not believe it goes far enough.
“On this issue we see it slightly differently because while some institutions may not specifically be included in the terms of reference – such as Westbank – I have sought advice and am confident there will still be scope for stories from those institutions to be heard,” Ms Burton told the Dáil.
The Labour leader said she hoped the commission would allow many of the women and children who endured such homes to have their stories told and heard, albeit belatedly.
There have been instances in the past where party members have not lost the whip when voting against their party on matters of conscience. In the early 1990s, a Fianna Fáil minister of state Chris Flood, who had campaigned on behalf of the travelling community, abstained in a vote that made casual halting on the side of the road or in non-official sites more difficult.
The then government took no action against him because it was a matter of personal concience.