By Madeline O’Connor
THE woman whose story inspired the Oscar-nominated film Philomena has begun a campaign calling for access to adoption records.
Philomena Lee, 80, spent fifty years of her life trying to find the son she was made to give away as a teenager and hopes her campaign will highlight the struggles of tens of thousands of people in a similar situation.
Launching the Philomena Project with her daughter Jane Hibberton, Lee, who now lives in Hertfordshire, urged Dublin to legislate for the release of over 60,000 files currently withheld by the state, private adoption agencies and the Catholic Church.
Lee who, like many unmarried women in the 50s was sent to work in a convent laundry while her son was sent off for adoption (she never found him before his death), said access to records would have meant a different end to her own story.
She said at the launch: “It would have meant an awful lot to me, I would have found him. He died thinking I had abandoned him and never found out that I was truly looking for him as he was looking for me”.
“I think a lot of people my age are very reluctant to come forward. I would advise them sincerely to come out with their stories because a lot of their babies are looking for them and they (the government) won’t tell them their origin.”
A report into the notorious Magdalene Laundries last year revealed a chapter in Ireland’s past that Prime Minister Enda Kenny called “a national shame”.
The government has said it is preparing a bill which will look at the tracing of adoption information.
The Adoption Rights Alliance, however, which will work with the Philomena Project, has argued that ministers are only paying lip service to real change as a 1998 Supreme Court ruling would still stop adopted people from knowing their origins.
Susan Lohan, ARA’s co-founder, said the project hopes to reverse the “continued denial of the rights of at least 60,000 adopted people and an almost equal number of mothers”.
The film Philomena, starring Judi Dench as Lee and Steve Coogan as Martin Sixsmith, the journalist that became involved in her story, has received four Academy Award nominations.