Date of Birth: March 1953
Siblings: Wendy McFarlane
Marital Status: Murdoch Roberts (197?-1985, separated, deceased); Mick O’Reilly (1995, engaged, separated); Ken Smith (2000, engaged, deceased)
Children: Nathan, Finlay & Damian Roberts; Unknown child born in 1970
Foster Children: Selina Roberts, Chloe Richards, Joey Rainbow, Will Smith, Hayley Smith & Nick Smith
Occupation: Waitress; School Secretary; Diner Part-Owner
Irene arrived in Summer Bay as the alcoholic mother of two children who ended up being fostered by Pippa Ross and her husband Michael. Having hit rock bottom after an unhappy marriage and having hit the grog in despair she would eventually turn her life around and carve out a niche for herself as the carer of many a troubled teenager. She moved on from being the town drunk to being one of the town’s most loved and respected residents.
When Irene first appeared, played by Jacqy Phillips, she was very much the heavy drinker and smoker, morose and resentful. Her daughter Finlay had run away to Summer Bay and ended up living with Michael and Pippa. Irene tracked her down and tried to convince her to return home, promising things would be different now. Finlay almost agreed but then she found out Irene was still drinking again and rejected her. Irene tried to use her younger son Damian, who Fin was close to, as leverage to emotionally blackmail Fin into returning home, but Damian told her to stay in her new life, even though it meant facing Irene and her oldest and favourite child Nathan, as big a bully as his mother, on his own.
The following year, Damian contacted Fin for help. When Fin and Pippa went to the house, they were surprised to be greeted by Irene, all smiles and insisting she and Damian were getting on fine now and the call had just been a blip. Once they were gone though, the mask slipped and Irene went back to bullying and beating Damian, using him as a slave. Damian eventually managed to run away to Summer Bay. He was soon discovered, but when she saw the bruises from his beatings Pippa refused to let Irene take him. When Michael and Pippa were out, Irene turned up at the house drunk and tried to force Damian and Fin to come with her. Irene fell down the stairs and in her anger and bitterness she claimed Finlay and Damian had pushed her. She told them she would drop the charges if they returned home with her. They agreed, but a talk from Pippa caused Irene to see the error of her ways. She told them to stay with Michael and Pippa while she returned home alone, maintaining sporadic contact with her two younger children.
In 1993, Irene returned, this time played by Lynne McGranger; she was still the bottle dyed blonde, the battler, the rough character, but she had stopped drinking. The rough diamond, the Irene we now know and love, was beginning to emerge from an alcoholic fog. She returned when Fin was hospitalised after a diving accident and quickly took Fin’s embryonic boyfriend Blake to task over the incident. Irene stayed with the Rosses and, with Pippa heavily pregnant at the time and having to go to her parents’ to rest, Irene quickly became an essential part of the household. Fin and Damian were unsure if they trusted her and attempted to remove all the alcohol from the house but Irene told them she needed to know it was there and that she could resist temptation. However, when she wanted to move to Summer Bay so they could be a family again, they were both horrified. Irene briefly became bitter over the rejection but quickly accepted it. She applied for a job as clerical assistant at the school to try and stick around but was left depressed when she realised the other applicants were more qualified and left without being interviewed. She did, however, join the committee for the musical society, although she nearly wrecked the fundraising dance when she reported Michael’s ute stolen after Luke and Adam had borrowed it to collect equipment. After initially thinking Fin was pregnant, she proved her worth when she recognised that she had become addicted to over the counter stimulants to help her study and helped her give them up. She also, with a lot of encouragement from Sally, managed to give up smoking herself. However, she then received a call saying Nathan had been arrested for theft and was forced to return to the city to support him.
She returned to town a few months later, only to endure a nightmarish journey when she had a flat tyre, had her belongings stolen by two women who stopped to “help” and then found her car wheels had been stolen. She returned with a bottle in hand, but it turned out to be a bottle of non alcoholic wine to celebrate Finlay passing her exams. Irene worked hard to win the trust of those around her. She became firm friends with Pippa, and also with Ailsa. For a long time she worked in Alf’s shop and then in the diner. She was also key in helping Adam get over his depression over causing Bobby’s death. Determined to better herself, she began putting money aside each week to buy an expensive dress. When Nathan ended his prison sentence, he came to Summer Bay and Irene had all her children around her for the first time in years, but Damian and especially Finlay were reluctant to trust Nathan. Irene initially subsidised him with money but eventually told him he had to get a job. Nathan managed to get a job as a school cleaner and apparently settled down. Irene joined the local bowls club where she managed to oust pompous club president Barry Logan by revealing he had exceeded the number of allowed tenures, resulting in Alf replacing him. When Shane asked to take part in a bowls tournament, Irene agreed to play him, only for him to knock her out and go on to win. She found herself at odds with the Stewarts when Alf punched Nathan on catching him with Sarah. However, then Nathan stole the school fees. When she found out what he’d done, Irene ordered him out of the house, and when the police turned up she gave them all the evidence they needed to arrest him. Irene had moved in with Adam Cameron while Nathan was around, having realised having three parental figures in the house was confusing Damian, but when Sam overturned an old lantern the house caught fire. No-one was hurt but all Irene’s belongings were destroyed and Adam admitted he had no insurance, leaving Irene living in a caravan.
When Irene heard that Greg was considering selling his share of the Diner, she suggested he sell the beach house to her instead. She was put out when he instead decided to sell it at auction but decided to join the bidders. She considered keeping the current tenants on as lodgers if she won, but fell out with Roxy Miller when she learned she had referred to as “tough as boots”. In the end, Roxy moved out and Irene moved in, before winning the auction. She inherited Luke Cunningham and Tug O’Neale as lodgers and persuaded Fin to move in with them, but Damian chose to stay with the Rosses. She was initially happy for Fin to date Michael’s son Haydn until she found out he was a gambling addict, and Haydn ended up leaving Fin heartbroken. To cheer Fin up, Irene used her dress fund to buy her a jewellery set. However, Fin took it back and bought her the dress instead. Just a few weeks after moving in, Fin was accepted into uni as a late admission and left town. Although they parted as friends, Irene was forced to admit she’d left things too late for them to be a family again.
Irene tried to set Luke up with his aerobics instructor Robyn but he told her not to interfere in his life. She was delighted when Luke set her up on a blind date with Don Fisher only to learn he had done it to teach her a lesson and Don had no idea why he was there. She was hired to teach the students ballroom dancing for the debutante ball. She began earning extra money by selling Wondercare beauty products, although her first sales session ended badly when Irene made a mess of making up Angel and the event descended into an argument between Ailsa and Roxy. She managed to wrangle herself the position of Don’s escort at the ball and wore her new dress, only to have it ruined when Jack Wilson was caught kissing Selina Cook behind a curtain and accidentally kicked a tin of paint over on her and Don, ruining the dress. Irene was devasted but was impressed when Selina came round to apologise and Jack gave her a pair of shoes to make up for it. She then had some fun helping to milk a cow which had followed Tug home after escaping from a farm, although she was unimpressed when she tried to drink the unprocessed milk.
Irene joined some of the other local females in setting up a netball team but her harsh training regime and barracking soon got on their nerves. They voted to make Roxy coach and Irene manager, with Roxy warning her to steer clear of training matters. However, when Roxy’s inability to motivate the team saw them losing all their matches, the girls decided to have the two women swap roles and Irene proved her own fitness by beating Sally in a race. Irene has a special gift, which is rarely referred to these days, the gift of second sight. When she began making predictions about Luke and Tug, Roxy gave her a test which showed she had high ESP. She tried to put the skill to use, advertising her services as a clairvoyant, but when she tried and failed to help her first customer, Gerry, find his missing wife she decided not to pursue it, even when she found out his wife had died some years previous and he was only after some company.
Luke and Tug moved on and Irene gained Rob Storey as a lodger for a time, but another house guest was more significant: Selina. Sensing Selina was unhappy after moving away with her family, Irene offered her a place to stay. Although she initially turned her down, Selina turned up on Irene’s doorstep after an argument with her mother Dawn. Dawn followed her down to try and persuade her to return to her family but Selina insisted she wanted to stay with Irene, becoming the first in a long line of surrogate children. Despite her own rough manner, Irene was determined for Selina to better herself and enrolled her in classes to teach her ladylike manners. Selina quit after one class, having been looked down on by everyone, and attempted to convince Irene to give up the idea by acting like a snob around her. Irene was annoyed when she found out Selina had been lying about attending classes but accepted her choice. She received a shock when she walked in on Rob and Roxy getting intimate in Don’s kitchen but agreed to keep quiet. She entered a country and western singing competition on the radio and agreed to dress up as Santa for the town’s Christmas barbeque, although Rob’s boat broke down as he was taking her to the beach for her grand entrance and she ended up having to be air lifted off it.
Irene had a visit from her sister Wendy McFarlane and nephew Nelson. Wendy was a famous country and western singer and encouraged Irene in her competition entry, but her own career was on the wane. Irene also tried to improve Selina’s image by buying her a pair of posh jeans, only for Selina to make them more her style by cutting slits in them, one of which exposed her behind. After Irene saw her wearing them at a party and dragged her home, a stand-off occurred between the pair, with Irene stitching them up and Selina cutting them open again. Selina did not back down until the stress caused Irene to have a mild heart attack.
Damian stayed with Irene when he came back to town for Shane and Angel’s wedding. Irene was uncomfortable when she realised he and Selina had slept together during that time but resisted the temptation to hide a farewell note from him. When she found out Selina was pregnant, Irene looked forward to becoming a grandmother and encouraged Selina to keep the baby, as well as taking Damian to task for failing to support her. Selina wanted to give the baby up for adoption but the decision was taken out of all their hands when Selina had a miscarriage.
Irene had been looking for a new lodger since Rob moved out and had tried to offer a room to Donna Bishop. When Marilyn Chambers returned to town, she and Irene got off to a rocky start, but soon became friends and Marilyn ended up moving into Irene’s spare room, having previously owned the house herself. When Don wanted to expel Selina after she had been caught in the boys’ dormitory on a school trip, Irene initially took her to task but on finding out she was only there because she had been stopping Joe Lynch from running away, she fought her corner.
Irene had a rare romance when builder Mick O’Reilly made a play for her. Irene was happy with the attention and when O’Reilly proposed she quickly accepted. However, the relationship came to an abrupt end when Marilyn uncovered the fact that he already had two wives. Irene’s husband Murdoch “Mud” Roberts reappeared, promising he had changed. She resumed their relationship and he moved into the beach house. However, she realised he has been hitting on Selina and caught him out by hiding in Selina’s bed, sending him packing. Selina had started a relationship with Curtis and, despite feeling uncomfortable with the idea, Irene agreed to him staying over. She was shocked when a body discovered after the bush fire turned out to be Mud, who had been murdered, and she and Selina were interviewed as suspects. When Dodge returned to town, he approached Irene with a message from Nathan, who he had been in jail with. Irene insisted on giving Dodge a chance despite the warnings of Pippa and Steven, who knew him from his previous stint in town, only for it to turn out he had killed Murdoch after confronting him on Nathan’s behalf.
She was touched when Selina changed her surname to Roberts in recognition of the fact she viewed Irene as a mother. Irene gained another charge when Chloe Richards came to stay with her after a failed attempt at living with her mother. Irene had to deal with more dramas from Selina as she had a near death experience and then gained a stalker. The experience ultimately led to Selina falling under the influence of cult leader Saul Bennett and Irene did her best to discourage the involvement. When it became clear Saul was trying to manipulate Selina into thinking they should have a child together, she returned to Irene. When Selina discovered an abandoned baby, Millie Coyne, Irene hoped to foster her but her past meant she was denied permission so Michael and Pippa looked after her instead.
Then Fin re-entered her life with a request: She had been told she couldn’t have children and wanted Irene to be a surrogate mother for her and her boyfriend Barry. Irene agreed and they went to the States to undergo the procedure, not allowed in Australia at the time. She also took in Joey Rainbow, Saul’s son, despite initially mistrusting him, when he wanted to get an education. She then had to help Chloe through her rape ordeal and her father murdering the chief suspect. When she found out Selina had a brief affair with Steven, her teacher, while he was staying with them, she reported the matter to Donald, resulting in Steven resigning. Then Fin visited with the news she had also fallen pregnant, but assured Irene she would bring up both babies. Irene had a scare when an illness she picked up from a stray cat Joey brought home threatened the baby but it left her with a renewed determination to be a good mother. Irene gave birth to her grandson Paul but he was kidnapped just a few hours later by Wendy Bachelor, a woman who had lost her own baby. Irene and Fin fell out and Irene’s attempts to make a plea in the media just made her appear unsympathetic, with a sensationalist story about the surrogacy appearing in a tabloid. Irene had to deal with the fallout of her surrogate daughters’ love lives when both Selina and Chloe fell for Jesse. Saul then reappeared, showing an interest in reclaiming both Selina and Joey. When Irene challenged him, he revealed that he was the one who had Paul. Not long after, Saul was apparently killed in a fire at his commune. Wendy’s body was also found but there was no sign of Paul. Although Paul remained missing, Irene and Fin made up off screen and Irene supported her daughter when she gave birth to her other son, Mark.
Some time later, Irene was contacted by a priest, Father Brian Little, who encouraged her to attend services. There, she briefly comforted a baby that a girl named Annie had brought with her and didn’t realise until afterwards that it was Paul. She returned to the church distraught to find Paul left behind, and sent him to live with Fin. She was angry to learn Annie, a member of the commune, had confessed to Brian and he had said nothing, until she realised he had engineered their meeting. Irene found herself having feelings for Brian, which were certainly mutual, but when his services as a priest were called on after a young nurse, Cathryn Barnes, was killed in a car accident she realised she couldn’t ask him to leave the church.
Irene disapproved of Chloe’s new love interest, Josef, who seemed to have Communist leanings, but it turned out he merely enjoyed expressing extreme opinions to make people think. When Steven returned to town, Irene was in favour of Selina staying with Jesse but instead Selina reunited with Steven. When Chloe fell pregnant Irene assumed that Jesse was the father, when in fact it was Lachie. Despite her disapproval of the couple, Irene helped Selina organise her wedding to Steven, having missed out on Fin’s marriage to Barry, and refused to believe she had jilted him when she disappeared before the wedding: She had actually been kidnapped by Saul, not as dead as everyone thought. After Selina was rescued and Saul was shot by Terri Gardner, Selina went travelling instead of getting married.
With Chloe and Lachie now looking to raise their baby together, Irene had her first clash with Lachie’s mother Diane Frazer, who didn’t want to see her son tied down and tried to use Chloe’s history of drug abuse to blackmail her into staying away from Lachlan. Irene returned the favour by taping Diane admitting what she’d done and playing it to Lachie, prompting him to tell her to stay away from Chloe. Irene gained another new house guest when teenager Will Smith turned up claiming Damian had sent him. In fact, Will had merely heard about her from Damian and began first trying to convince Chloe to move out with Lachie and then trying to drive a wedge between Irene and Joey, in order to make room for his two younger siblings. Irene was temporarily fooled by his lies but Joey saw through them. Irene found out Will’s brother and sister were happy with foster parents but convinced him to stay. When Selina contracted malaria, Irene flew to Ironbridge to help look after her. There, she contacted Steven and engineered his and Selina’s reunion, finally giving the couple her blessing.
Irene resigned from the Diner, feeling she didn’t fit in with the new image Ailsa was aiming for, and struggled to find work. She decided to apply for the job of Don’s secretary, even though she could not do shorthand, type or use a computer. She got the job and managed to pull the wool over Don’s eyes by using a tape recorder and doing all the work at home in the evenings. He eventually cottoned on, and Irene spent many unhappy weeks struggling on the dole, having to sell her car and being rejected at interviews. Hacing failed to find a replacement, Don arranged for her to attend secretarial classes and the rest as they say is history. She remained the school secretary for a long time becoming very much an integral part of the school. Whilst working there part time while she attended Uni to do an English Literature degree part time.
Irene and Diane found common ground as mothers when Lachie was left brain damaged by a cerebral haemorrhage and Irene accepted Diane was doing what she thought was best when she sent him away for treatment. Irene convinced Chloe, now mother to young Olivia, to move back in with her. Will’s sister Hayley turned up to join the household after falling out with her foster parents. Irene went on a date with school inspector John Simpson, only to have to fight him off when he assaulted her. In revenge, John framed Irene for stealing files from the school but Joel realised the truth after uncovering another of John’s victims. John was arrested and Irene cleared.
After going away with Ailsa, Irene began a career as a country and western singer. She reluctantly joined Diane in matchmaking between Chloe and Lachie’s brother James when it became clear Lachie wouldn’t return to the family. Not long after, Joey showed symptoms of schizophrenia. When she learned he had been smoking marijuana, Irene assumed that was the cause of his behaviour until James convinced her otherwise. Joey then attacked Irene, pushing her over. Joey disappeared and reappeared with a girl named Kaia Stokes. When Kaia told her Joey had been talking to Saul, Irene realised he had been hallucinating. Joey was eventually admitted for treatment after nearly smothering Irene with a cushion. Shortly after he came out, Irene left him, Will and Hayley with Ailsa while she was away helping Fin and was disquieted to find them living in the beach house on their own on her return; Duncan had convinced Ailsa to throw Joey out by making it look like he was becoming violent again, and Irene and Ailsa fell out until the truth came out.
Irene and Diane’s feud continued to escalate throughout James and Chloe’s relationship and brief marriage. Diana once tried to get the local police to arrest Irene for attempted murder when she waved a knife she had been cutting a cake with at her whilst talking. She also spiked Irene’s drink in an attempt to undermine her with the locals. Needless to say it did not work! Irene got a measure of satisfaction when Diane turned up at her place drunk after being rejected by James and Chloe. Opening up to her, Diane revealed that, while at boarding school, she had had an affair with the young groundsman…and was mortified when Irene reminded her of the conversation the next morning.
When Aboriginal teacher John Russell began teaching at Summer Bay High, Irene befriended him and encouraged him to track down his mother who he had been taken away from, also trying to educate Hayley when she learned of her racist attitudes. She made an unsuccessful attempt to get Chloe to give her marriage with James a try and chided her when she made him believe she was trying for a baby. She was worried about Will having his new girlfriend Peta in his bedroom, then found out Peta had been living alone and had had a homeless woman pose as her grandmother, so arranged for her to live with the Nashes, talking Natalie into fostering. She briefly shared a house with Adam again when he returned to town to run Bonza Burgers.
Irene has been unlucky in love. There was the millionaire Anthony who was very keen on Irene, having answered a lonely hearts ad placed by Hayley, but who thought that throwing money at her would buy her affections. Irene, being both independent and proud concluded that the relationship was not going to work, and ended it. When Will and Hayley’s father Ken turned up Irene began another relationship. Ken and Irene were both ex-alcoholics, and wanted to make a proper family together for the Smith children, inviting his other son Nick to live with them. Their relationship was tested by Ken’s ex wife, Eve, who tried to poison Irene and who believed she was trying to steal her family. Nick came to her rescue and Eve is still in the Psych unit as far as we know. Ken had proposed shortly beforehand but it wasn’t until afterwards that Irene accepted and agreed to pressure to have the large white wedding neither of them had ever had before. Nick entered them in a radio competition to win a holiday where Irene identified them as recovering alcoholics. Ken was upset but Irene told him it was something they had to be honest about and he found it brought him more business at the garage. Ken worked hard to get money for the wedding but died when a car he was repairing fell on him shortly before they were due to be married. Shortly before, Irene had dreamed that Ken was calling her and she ran following him to the edge of a cliff. She realised she had foreseen his death. She responded by throwing away her engagement ring, angry that Ken had spent money on it instead of making the garage safe, but later came to regret the decision and was relieved when Hayley found it.
She allowed Will to drop out of school to support the family and had to deal with Hayley going off the rails. She was initially unhappy with Hayley’s relationship with Noah, aware that he had been expelled for crashing the education department’s computer system, but softened towards him when he comforted Hayley after she was attacked. When a developer, Dennis Scott, who was looking to build a resort, made an offer on Irene’s house, she thought nothing of rejecting him but found herself pressured by her neighbours, who had accepted the offer and accused her of ruining the deal, while Dennis himself became increasingly threatening. Her tyres were slashed and she was threatened in her garden by a pair of thugs, with Will, Noah and Jude coming to her rescue. Don organised a meeting where Alf made an impassioned speech defending Irene’s position, leaving Dennis’ argument in tatters. Dennis committed suicide shortly afterwards.
Irene coached Dani to sing in a talent contest, recalling she’d won a prize herself while trying to get out from under Wendy’s shadow. When she had to go away to help Fin, Will, who was supposed to be doing a course at the time, complained that Fin took advantage of her. After talking with Don, Irene decided to still help Fin but to allow Hayley and Nick to stay in their house alone so Will could still go to the course. She returned to find the Smiths at odds after Nick took some of the money she left to pay for damage to Will’s car and Scott Phillips’ bike. She realised Noah had a drink problem and advised Hayley to give him some space while he dealt with it. However, she then gave Noah a place to stay when his mentally unstable mother Jill came to town, as well as advising Hayley not to trust Jill. She also helped Donald regain his confidence after he was attacked by some friends of Kane while trying to help Will.
When Noah’s counsellor, Flynn Saunders, introduced him to the concept of controlled drinking, deciding how much he would have before going out and sticking to it, Irene dismissed the notion, insisting Noah had to stop drinking completely. Flynn asked Irene to stop interfering, since the two of them giving Noah different advice was just confusing things, and Irene accepted the wisdom of his approach when she and Hayley accompanied Noah to the pub and he only had one drink. She then worried when Hayley started dating Aidan Bradley, who kept trying to change her to suit his professional image.
As the anniversary of Ken’s death approached, Irene became increasingly moody. Colleen suggested she was going through the menopause and, although Irene initially dismissed the idea, a visit to the doctor showed she was right. However, her mood was improved when Hayley presented her with a portrait of the family, including Ken. Not long after, the family went to London together to mark the launch of a book Hayley had illustrated. When Irene learned Will was the father of Gypsy’s baby, she assured Gypsy she saw her as part of the family, and eventually Gypsy moved in with them. Irene befriended Jim Tyler, a former down-and-out working at the school, but Nick saw it as her moving on from Ken so gave Jim a hard time. Jim ended up having a breakdown and it was revealed he had never recovered from running over and killing his young son fifteen years previous. Irene told Nick that Jim had only been a friend but one day she would find someone else.
In early 2002, Nathan returned to Summer Bay after his prison sentence and Irene again was able to re-establish a relationship with her wayward son. She was pleased for him when he went off travelling with his Irish girlfriend, Grace O’Connor, a nurse he had met at Northern Districts hospital. She also helped Nick cope with being temporarily confined to a wheelchair after the bus crash. Irene had a relationship with the much younger school principal, Paris Burnett. They had a lot of ups and downs, including being stranded together during the Mirigini disaster, and Paris gave up a promotion in order to be near Irene but he had to move when Don was reinstated as principal. She won $13,000 on the lotto and gave Jesse a place to stay when he was released from jail. Irene also briefly gave Dani a place to stay when she fell out with her family over Kane and Kirsty’s relationship. She was taken hostage along with Nick and Jesse by Griggs, a criminal who had Jesse had reported to the police, but he fled when Donald turned up.
Irene’s next enemy was Angie Russell, who targeted Nick for arguing with her son Dylan, who Irene gave a place to stay for a time after he and Angie fell out. When Angie tried to seduce Nick, social worker Claire Archer misunderstood and accused Irene of abusing him. Irene then had to watch Angie frame Nick for assault and worried when he ran away for a time. By this point in 2003, Paris had returned to Summer Bay and Irene took great pleasure in watching him fire Angie when her duplicity was exposed. She was briefly suspected of killing Angie. Irene dated Trevor Marshall, a classmate from TAFE, for a time, and defended Hayley at a disastrous exhibition of her paintings, during which she was mistaken for the granddaughter of a famous painter. Irene and Paris eventually moved in together for a while, but Nick’s misdemeanours came between them and led to Paris moving out, as well as Irene gaining a dependency on medication. Although he asked her to accompany him when he had to leave to care for his orphaned niece and nephew, she decided they were not strong enough and would not last the distance. They said a fond farewell and he left without her.
With the Smiths starting to move on, Irene took in young alcoholic Kit Hunter and helped her overcome her problems. A longer term resident was Tasha Andrews, a girl who had turned up at the hospital after living rough and becoming withdrawn, having been brought up in a remote shack. Irene’s kindness made an impression on her and she took her in, although Irene worried when Josh took an interest in her. Irene worked for the uni radio station for a time but was dismissed after discussing the Dani/Kane court case. Shortly after a falling out with Kit, who had taken Irene’s money to buy her a thank you present, Irene suffered another heart attack and was left needing surgery. When Tasha became close to Kane, Irene reluctantly let him move in as well, and had Kirsty join him when they married in secret. She also let Brodie stay when she came back to town and found the Sutherlands’ full, only to find herself in the crossfire when both Hayley and Brodie fell for Alex and then Hayley was left with amnesia after a car accident. Tasha discovered her late parents had adopted her and looked to find her biological parents, but Irene was shocked to find Tasha’s mother had been the late Angie Russell.
When Tasha found some money left behind by her adopted parents, Irene tried to get her to put it somewhere safe. She broke a promise by searching Tasha’s room for it only to fall into a trap Tasha left by opening an envelope that proved she had broken her word. Tasha temporarily moved out as a result but accepted Irene was just trying to help her, and the experience led to Irene meeting an old neighbour of Tasha’s and learning Angie had had an identical cousin. Irene contacted first Dylan and then Angie’s cousin Josie, who was keen to take custody of Tasha and came to Summer Bay to see her, despite Irene trying to keep them apart on learning Josie ran a brothel. Irene contacted Morag for help and Josie withdrew the application. Although they both cared for Tasha, Irene and Josie would remain rivals. It transpired that Tasha’s father was millionaire Ian Osbourne, but after observing her he concluded she was better off living the normal life Irene could offer her. He met with Irene, who passed his test by refusing to accept his money for looking after Tasha. Even though Josie had helped Ian spy on her household, Irene told him not to take any action against her. She later brought Tasha to meet Ian, who put her off by being cold towards her.
In 2004, new principal Barry Hyde arrived. The sparks flew almost immediately between these two, and although she lost her job at the school at his hands, they were drawn to each other. She took on a part-time job at Flynn’s surgery to help out Colleen and had to deal with her car being written off after Robbie, Tasha and Kim took it for a drive. However, she allowed Kim to move in when things were difficult between him and Barry. She returned to work at the Diner and Tasha bought her a share in the business with the money from her adopted parents; she became a successful business woman. Barry and Irene became firm friends and then lovers. She supported Kane when he was accused of armed robbery, and Barry supported Irene in turn when Kirsty and Kane ran away together and when Hayley, Tasha and Kim were in a plane crash. They moved in together for a few months, although Irene became jealous when Barry began spending time with Beth. Beth was upset that Irene would think she would steal a friend’s boyfriend and the two women clashed again when Beth decided to sell food at Noah’s Bar in competition to the Diner, but quickly made up.
She nearly lost Tasha when she came close to moving away with Josie, and supported Hayley when she became pregnant and didn’t know whether Scott or Kim was the father. Chloe returned to town only to die in a car accident. Distraught but determined to honour Chloe’s wishes that Diana not have custody of Olivia, Irene fought Diana for custody but was arrested after breaking a restraining order and had the fact she had stolen from her employer brought up during the hearing. She lost but her grief soon turned to happiness when James, Olivia’s Uncle, Diana’s son and executor of Chloe’s will announced that in her will Chloe had made him her legal guardian. Olivia went to live with James and Irene was happy that Chloe’s wishes were being adhered to. However, Barry had been reluctant to support Irene, feeling his parenting days were over, and they separated, wanting different things.
Irene went off on jury service at the beginning or 2005. Not long after she returned, a new constable arrived and he moved into Irene’s house when there were several break ins. Irene began to behave very oddly, she had severe headaches and developed an acute paranoia. It transpired that the new constable, Corey Henderson, was poisoning her with mercury. His father had been convicted by the jury on which Irene had served, and had committed suicide in prison. Corey blamed the jury and had been killing them off one by one. Irene began to suspect she was being poisoned but no one believed her and she was dragged off, kicking and screaming to a psychiatric unit. She realised it was Corey, but again she was not believed. Corey left Summer Bay, making sure some poisoned chocolates were left for Irene to ingest. Jack worked out what was happening just in time and Irene was saved and Corey arrested.
Irene had to deal with Tasha’s involvement with the Believers and pregnancy as a result of being raped by a member of the group, before giving her and Robbie a home when they were married. She also gained a new charge in Belle Taylor, a runaway who she caught breaking into her car. Irene managed to see past Belle’s tough façade and gave her a place to stay, finding out she was another adoptee looking for her birth mother. She then had to discipline her when she stole Barry’s car and when Irene came home to find Belle about to sleep with Ric. Tasha, Robbie and Colleen set Irene up on a date with Barry and they recommenced their love affair only for it to be ended dramatically when Barry was found to be a double murderer. Irene was distraught. She refused to see Barry, or to allow him to explain, but she relented and read a letter he had left her, declaring he had never loved anyone the way he had loved her. She made sure Barry know that she cared about him too before he left Summer Bay to await trial in the city.
Irene gained another rival parent figure when Belle was revealed to be the daughter of Amanda Vale. Irene objected when Amanda tried to help Belle split up Ric and Cassie, prompting Belle to move in with Amanda. Irene then took Cassie in for a time when she had to move out of the caravan park after cheating on Ric. She was responsible for Charity Fernbrook abducting Tasha’s daughter Ella when she was tricked into leaving them alone, but redeemed herself when she talked Charity into telling the police where Ella was. Not long after, she said goodbye to Robbie and Tasha when they emigrated but regained Belle, who moved back when her boyfriend Drew cheated on her with Amanda. She then became caught up when Belle was torn between Drew and Lucas. She was roped into Colleen’s bowling match against Betty Alsopp. Although Irene and Amanda had often clashed, Irene helped Belle organise a farewell party for her when she left town and they parted on good terms. She briefly gave Tony a place to stay when he fell out with his children over his one night stand with Naomi Preston and gave Colleen a serve when she went to the media about it. With Irene refusing to let Belle have Drew stay over, she found Drew’s mother Jazz quick to curry favour by making it clear she was fine with the idea.
Tony asked Irene to look after Geoff Campbell, but he lasted less than a day after Belle deliberately made him uncomfortable and he then walked in on her in the shower. Irene found Annie Campbell upset: She had started her periods and had no idea what they were. When Annie was arrested for trying to steal tampons, Irene persuaded Tony and Geoff that she needed a female presence in her life and moved her in with her and Belle. She was shocked to discover that Jonah Abraham, the cult member believed to be responsible for Tasha’s rape, was now working for the Campbells’ father Bruce and calling himself Michael. She and Martha determined to warn the town about him and organised a meeting. Bruce put a stop to it, telling Irene he’d take Annie back if she didn’t stop hounding Michael. Irene softened towards Michael when he helped the Campbell children after Bruce died and their farm was repossessed. This also resulted in Geoff moving in with them. Irene gave Heather McCabe a job at the Diner but had to sack her when Geoff revealed she had stolen from them. She worried when Belle was kidnapped by Dom Moran and reluctantly gave Dom a job when Belle thought he deserved a chance. However, Irene was determined to show her Dom’s true colours and arranged for Fin, who now ran a restaurant in the city, to video him deliberately messing up an interview to show he was only interested in getting close to her again.
2008 for Irene saw a number of key events. She got a new partner at the Diner in the shape of Roman and though she initially couldn’t warm to him, they ended up getting on, especially when she admitted her main problem with him was the fact he was replacing Leah. When the Diner began collapsing as a result of an old earthquake fault Irene and Roman moved into a new building with Leah and helped come up with a proposal to suit them all when Leah’s business The Den, failed. She kicked Aden when she mistakenly believed he had assaulted Annie, exacerbating an existing leg injury, and had to give an apology to stop the Diner being sued.
Soon afterwards, Irene received a mysterious phone call and took custody of an adorable but sick little boy called Oliver. She applied for guardianship of him and it was revealed that his parents were none other than the fugitives Kirsty and Kane. Kane came to the house to ask Irene to keep Ollie but Irene refused until she spoke to Kirsty. On speaking to Kirsty it became clear that she didnt want to give Ollie up and was sick of running. Things were taken out of her hands though when Kane was arrested for armed robbery and Irene was arrested as a co-conspirator. Kane cut a deal which saw the charges against her dropped and Irenes major storyline of the year ended with Kirsty moving in with Miles. For the remainder of the year she was primarily occupied as Belles main confidant through her trials and tribulations, looking after Geoff and Annie and running The new Diner with Roman.
She got herself a new love interest in local supplier Lou DeBono after he helped her in the kitchen during Colleen’s speed dating event and later bombarded her with flowers. Flattered by his attentions she agreed to a date but was intimidated by the thought of going the opera and cancelled the date after her dress split. Lou later talked to her and they shared fish and chips on the Pier but she was upset again when he offered her wine. She managed to avoid drinking any but at their next date she wasn’t so lucky and when Lou inquired as to what was wrong, she told him the truth about her alcoholic past. Lou though told her he thought she was remarkable and wanted to keep seeing her. Their next date was to Lou’s yacht club but Irene was left humiliated when Lou abandoned her and she was set up by his wife Donna, despite him having told her he was divorced. He explained that they were as good as divorced but that Donna was being stubborn over the settlement, but Irene had had enough and called time on the relationship. Lou though wasn’t willing to give up and showed her his boat, asking to take her away for a few weeks. With the support of her family and friends Irene agreed to take the trip.
When Angelo was called out to investigate a drifting boat, he was on the receiving end of a gun firing shots which injured an officer. Making his way onto the boat, he was shocked to see Irene on board and wielding a gun. He arrested her and during interview she explained that Lou had gone missing in the middle of the night and that she was terrified and had started drinking again. Angelo locked her up for shooting a police officer but when evidence was found suggesting Lou had died, Irene was charged with his murder. In prison Irene was taunted into drinking and fell further into depression when Lou’s body was found.She was released when Angelo found evidence someone else was on the boat but continued drinking on her return to the Bay. When Annie poured away a bottle of booze, Irene slapped her, horrifying them both. Belle took her to an alcoholics anonymous meeting and she gradually rebuilt her relationship with her foster children. She was shocked when Lou’s wife Donna was arrested after the murder weapon was found in her house. Having inherited Lou’s prawn trawler on his death, she ended up employing Aden and Geoff to run it after the previous captain, Gibbsey, was revealed to be an abalone poacher.
Irene spent the next few months fading into the background again, dealing with Belle’s death and its aftermath. Ruby moved in with her after finding out Charlie was her mother. She had a brief trip to Japan when she chaperoned Annie and Jai on their exchange trip. On her return, she learned Donna had been released on a technicality. Donna turned up at the house insisting she was innocent and Irene believed her and ended up signing the trawler back over to her, since she had lost her berth. Together they discovered that Donna’s gardener, Orson, had seen someone planting the gun in the house but he was hospitalised before he could reveal more. Donna decided to leave town, fearing the same fate, and she and Irene parted as friends. A few months later, it was revealed Lou had been shot by people smuggler Derrick Quaid.
Irene spent the first few months of 2010 having to deal with the rebuilding of the Diner after the race riot, during which she was trapped inside the building herself while it was firebombed, and the departure of Geoff and Annie. She played a big part in persuading Alf to reinvolve himself in town life after the incident and briefly took a job with him at the surf club while the Diner was out of order, but she was too used to being her own boss to do things the way he wanted and they were both relieved when she could return to the Diner. She also tried to help Romeo out with his problems with his mother Jill, giving both of them advice on how to deal with alcoholism.
When Charlie found out Ruby was drinking and that Irene had suggested she buy a bottle of wine as a present, she took Ruby away from the house and Irene felt guilty that she hadn’t noticed about Rubys drink problem. Irene gained some new householders in April and Bianca Scott and then Will and his daughter Lily. Irene was pleased to have them back although she was worried by Will’s behaviour, as he seemed angry all the time and hooked up with Shandi Ayres, and the lack of word from Gypsy, with whom Will had split up. Despite this, she seemed determined to make sure Will kept custody of Lily after Gypsy filed for divorce. However, she seemed concerned when Will’s evidence led to Alf’s arrest for Penn Graham’s murder.
Irene continued to support Will in the face of opposition from the likes of Colleen, Morag and Alf. However, when Will went on the run, she accepted he’d been lying. When Will called her for help after Lily felt ill, she let the police know where to find him. Afterwards, Alf forgave her, acknowledging she’d just been supporting her family, and invited her to the barbeque celebrating his exoneration. She was one of those most willing to give the River Boys a fair go and also tried to deal with April’s mood swings, beginning to get an insight into her OCD when she saw everything arranged neatly, and alerted Bianca. She also advised Bianca to give Liam a wide berth when he had his drug relapse, saying he needed to hit rock bottom, and seemed ready to give up on him after he left town but encouraged Bianca to go and see him when they learned he was in rehab. She realised Bianca was growing closer to Heath Braxton and advised her against it, saying she could see good in the other Braxtons but Heath was just trouble. She was concerned when it turned out they’d slept together and Heath broke into her house. She tried to help Bianca through her rape and her relationship woes with Liam.
She discovered a lump on her breast and was diagnosed with breast cancer. She kept it quiet, although April found out when she saw a surgeon’s card in her bag. When Leah became concerned about her, she was forced to admit the truth and give up work. She underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy and also had to cope with a visit from Gypsy, who proved a less than effective nurse. She also worried about April when she used drugs to get through her exams. She tried to go back to work but felt faint, so Marilyn had to take her home, but was cheered up when she found her friends had organised a breast cancer fundraiser. Her mood dampened slightly when Colleen, Roo and Marilyn visited for a girls day and a tarot card reading Marilyn gave her indicated someone was going to die.
Irene attempted to recover her life by going sailing, only to collapse with a heart attack, and it was discovered that the chemotherapy had left her with a weak heart. She shut herself away in the house as a result and when Alf and Roo convinced her to go out she ended up having a panic attack. She even refused to go to Liam and Biancas wedding. When she began complaining of pain in her leg, Sid realised she had deep vein thrombosis from the inactivity. Her friends tried to get her to adopt a relaxing hobby and Liam arranged a karaeoke night. Irene enjoyed herself and hired a singing coach, Eddie Trumper. She invited him along to her birthday party and gave most of the recording session Liam had bought her to him. She had a romance with him which ended when she realised he had stolen some of Liams lyrics. She supported Bianca during the drama surrounding her pregnancy, her break-up with Liam and her post-natal psychosis.
With April and Bianca only infrequent residents after they mostly moved in with Dexter and Heath respectively, Irene found herself overworked at the Diner and lonely at home. She tried employing John to deal with the shortfall but he broke the coffee machine on his first shift and didn’t last long. She encouraged Marilyn to declare her feelings to John. When she found out Chris Harrington was looking for a flatmate, she offered him a room. They initially clashed when he broke all her rules on his first day, taking Indi into his room without asking, leaving the table in a mess and bringing alcohol into the house. Chris made a point of getting to know Irene and following her rules to the point that rather than having more quality time with him she invited Indi over and let them have the house to themselves.
When she learned Spencer had bipolar, Irene suggested he move in with her and Chris. She also convinced Sid to let Sasha move in rather than move back to Broken Hill with him, and gave Chris a job at the Diner so he could pay rent. When Heath told her that Ricky was having pregnancy complications and Bianca was with her, Irene headed down the hospital with some coffees to relieve her only to end up being caught in the explosion of the bomb Jade Montgomery had planted in Bianca’s bag.
Although Irene only suffered minor injuries in the explosion, soon after she found herself taken hostage by Sean Green alongside Spencer, Chris and Sasha, after he misunderstood one of Chris and Sasha’s comments, thought a doctor lived at the house and went there seeking medical attention. They were freed when Sean collapsed from a combination of his pre-existing wounds and Chris overpowering him.
Alf invited her for a barbeque at his house but when she got there she discovered that John and Chris were trying to set her up on a blind date. Her date failed to show up but Alf, John, Marilyn, Roo and Chris joined her for a friendly meal. Irene suspected Chris was projecting his own feelings of loneliness onto her and became determined to find him a girlfriend. She made a disastrous attempt to set him up with Tamara, then switched her attention to Denny Miller, and told Chris she’d put a burger he’d come up with on the menu if he took Denny out. She had to weather the health scare at the Diner when Chris accidentally served poisoned risotto, but found it hard to be angry with Chris for long. She closed it down when customers stayed away but it soon reopened after Chris and Phoebe organised an advertising campaign. She advised both Bianca and Heath in their issues over Harley. She tackled Chris again when he took a scratch card as payment for a customer but gave it back to him when he paid the bill himself. Chris won a holiday but didn’t want to leave Denny so gave the prize to Irene.
She returned to walk in on Sasha about to have sex with Matt in the Diner. When Sasha tried to apologise the next day, Irene wasn’t in a forgiving mood, especially with Matt making light of the incident, and their argument resulted in Sasha quitting. This sparked a brief feud, during which Irene bought a pizza Sasha had ordered but couldn’t afford and threw it in the sea, but Roo being in hospital with meningitis put things in perspective and Irene gave Sasha her job back.
She tried to plead Heath’s case to Connie when he was accused of abusing Darcy and attended his farewell barbeque. She was delighted when Marilyn chose her as matron of honour when she married John. When Chris returned from holiday, he brought Irene some new shelves for the kitchen but ended up demolishing the place trying to install a new oven. However, when Irene saw how depressed he was about causing the mess, she told him to take as long as he needed to fix it.
When she found out Matt had been sleeping at the Diner, she got him to work there for free as board. She supported Spencer after his experienced with internet predator Keith Potts and visited Maddy after she had been diagnosed with cancer to show she had survived it. She let Chris, who had taken a job on a cruise ship, know Spencer was unhappy, inadvertently resulting in him coming back to town against Spencer’s wishes.
She had to deal with the news that several residents had been in a car crash which had left Leah badly injured and helped organise a roster to keep VJ in touch with her. However, she ended up on the receiving end of a serve from Zac when he felt she was making out he couldn’t cope. When some of the teens protested against John cleaning off a mural some teens had graffitied on the side of the surf club, Irene sided with them and gave them coffee. She went to the city to get VJ when he ran off to see Leah but returned without him. She was involved in Spencer’s organisation of a Colour Run to honour Maddy and raise money for teenagers with cancer. She continued to refuse to let Sasha have Matt stay over, resulting in Sasha being late back to uni after they stayed over in the Diner instead. When she learned Zac had agreed to let VJ take part in a boxing match with Jett, she tore a strip off him, saying Leah would never have agreed to it. She was also annoyed to find Sasha and Matt had spent the night together at the house but Sasha assured her nothing had happened; things were over for good and Sasha was moving to uni full-time. Irene roped Marilyn, Roo and John into preparing a farewell lunch for the couple before waving Sasha off.
She stuck up for Roo when Maddy’s mother Tanya blamed her for not telling her about Maddy’s cancer. She lost another member of her household when Spencer went back to his parents but gained a temporary replacement when Maddy stayed with her while Roo was in the city with Alf. When Chris felt left out by their girl’s night in, Irene warned him not to make Maddy feel unwelcome. On learning Alf had refused to see a counsellor after being diagnosed with PTSD, she tried to lecture him into it but he called her holier-than-thou, although he later apologised after agreeing to counselling. She worried about Leah when she had her aneurysm and went missing in the bush and was a constant presence when she was in hospital. She also advised her on her engagement to Zac and told Marilyn how much she’d miss her when it looked like she and John were going to leave with Jett.
She gained Nate as a lodger after Leah’s house became crowded. She and Marilyn took it upon themselves to interrogate Roo’s new boyfriend James Edmunds and gave her a magazine article telling her what to do on a date, but when this was a disaster they had to help the pair meet up to sort things out. When they discovered Roo was embarrassed to have James around them, they invited the pair over for dinner. She suggested a beach banquet for the fundraiser for Zac and Leah after their house burnt down. She met new principal Greg Snelgrove at a fundraiser and arranged to have dinner with him. She invited him round to hers and Marilyn suggested she and John come along. Although the dinner was less than successful, with Greg boring everyone by talking about his fish collection, it convinced Irene she could date again. She then went to London for a while to help James look after Olivia.
She returned to town to find Marilyn had amnesia and hurried to her side. Marilyn came to stay with her when she got out of hospital and she filled her in on what old friends were getting up to. She quickly realised Marilyn was lying when she initially claimed to remember John but Marilyn soon recovered and returned home. Irene declined an offer to attend Roo’s secret wedding to James Edmunds and tipped off Alf. She was Roo’s confidante when she found out James was married. Then Olivia turned up, expecting to stay with her. Irene agreed even though Olivia initially lied to her about James knowing where she was, then learned that she had “borrowed” Leah’s car, resulting in it being damaged. She was quick to turn on Charlotte about she stole Hunter’s trust fund and was fired from the school for sleeping with Matt, throwing her out of the Diner, although she did persuade Hunter to visit her after she’d had a brick thrown through her window. However, she then used the incident as an excuse to make a complaint and get Charlotte evicted.
When she learned Olivia had been expelled after an argument with a boy, she decided she would stay with her permanently. She was the first on the scene when Charlotte ran over Trystan Powell and summoned help. Zac alerted her to the fact Olivia was self-harming but Olivia ran off when she asked her about it. After Hunter convinced her to return, Olivia told Irene she had been abused by a friend of James’ who used to stay over. Irene comforted her but when Olivia mentioned the phrase “It’ll be our little secret” she reacted strangely. She pressured Olivia to see a counsellor before blurting out that it had happened to her too. Olivia called Leah, and Irene told them both that when she was fourteen she and Wendy had gone to stay with her Uncle Pete and Aunt Edwina; she had let Pete rape her so he wouldn’t turn his attention to Wendy. Olivia agreed to see a counsellor if Irene went too.
Instead, however, Irene began obsessing over a secret box, containing a photograph of the visit and an embroidered blanket. She lost it at VJ when he moved the blanket. Although Olivia and Hunter cooked her breakfast as an apology, she continued to be snappy with the teens, then went out and bought a bottle of vodka. When Leah quizzed her about it, she claimed to have got it for her hen night, but then began drinking heavily. She broke the bottle and cut her hand, and was horrified when Leah used the blanket to stem the blood, attacking her. She broke down and admitted that she had fallen pregnant from the rape and the baby had been taken away from her. She had embroidered the blanket but hadn’t even known if the baby was a boy or a girl. Leah suggested she look for the baby but Irene felt it was too late. Despite the confession, she continued drinking.
In her drunken state, she called Olivia a free-loader who led boys on. Alf turned up and poured her vodka away. She went out in the car to get some more and nearly ran over Billie, who covered for her with the police, claiming she was driving. She went to stay with Fin for a while but continued drinking from a hip flask on her return. She was a bridesmaid at Leah’s wedding but got drunk at the reception. Chris took her home but she hit him when he took her hip flask away. She admitted to Leah that she needed to track down her child. When she heard Charlotte had killed Denny, she declared jail was too good for her and went out in a state. She was later seen wandering around town with a torn coat.