After film, real Philomena calls for changes to Irish adoption laws

January 24, 2014

(Actor Steve Coogan from the film” Philomena”, an Oscar Best Picture nominee, arrives with Philomena Lee, whose life was featured in the film, at the 25th Annual Producers Guild of America Awards in Beverly Hills, California January 19, 2014. REUTERS/Fred Prouser )

The 80-year-old Irish woman who inspired the Oscar-nominated film “Philomena” launched a campaign calling for access to adoption records on Friday, hoping her story will highlight the plight of tens of thousands.

Philomena Lee’s 50-year search for the son she was forced to give up as a teenager has struck a chord with movie fans across the world and received four Academy Award nominations last week, including one for actress Judi Dench, who plays Lee.

Launching the “Philomena Project”, Lee called on Dublin to legislate for the release of more than 60,000 files withheld by the state, private adoption agencies and the Catholic Church that are the sole source of many adopted peoples’ identities.

Lee, who like many unmarried mothers in 1950s Ireland was forced to work in convent laundries while their children were put up for adoption, said access to records would have provided a different outcome to her story.

“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,” said Lee, who was unable to find her son before his death.

“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 last year into the notorious Magdalene Laundries where women and girls were subjected to an uncompromising regime of harsh discipline and unpaid work shone a light onto a dark chapter of Ireland’s past that Prime Minister Enda Kenny described as “a national shame”.

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