Philomena Lee welcomes plans to let adopted people access records
Philomena Lee, whose devotion to finding her adopted son inspired a Hollywood film, has welcomed the Government's proposed Adoption Bill provided it allows adopted children full access to their identity.
Speaking at an event to commemorate all the woman and children who passed through the gates of Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, Co Tipperary, where her son Anthony is buried, Philomena (82) said Ireland needs to move to a more open adoption system similar to that in the UK.
"Of course I would welcome change. I don't see why the rest of the world is not like the UK. It's not about bothering people that don't want to be bothered, it's about getting your identity and you would welcome that change," she said.
"It's about identity, but it's also a genetic entitlement."
The proposed new laws would see up to 50,000 adopted people gain the right to access their birth certificates.
Philomena, originally from Limerick but now living in Britain, travelled to yesterday's event with a number of family members including her daughter, Jane Libberton, who during her research discovered Anthony's headstone at Sean Ross Abbey.
"I think most people who were adopted are very sensitive. If I went looking for my mother and she didn't want to know me, I would understand that and I would accept that, but at least I would know who I was, and there may be aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters who do want to know," said Ms Libberton.
Susan Lohan, of the Adoption Rights Alliance, said Philomena Lee's story sets a "wonderful example for everybody in the country who would have us believe that natural parents do not want contact with their parents or that their parents do no want contact with them".
"There are people in Leinster House who would have us believe that natural mothers do not want contact with the children that they lost to adoption, that they are somehow afraid of those children," she said.
Ms Lohan said the leaked details of the Adoption Bill, which is due to be published soon, "does not give us much hope".
"It seems they are continuing to want us to believe that natural mothers are afraid of their children and don't want any contact," she said.
"Phil's story and Anthony's story make a lie of that, and we must always have that at the forefront of our minds."
After a minute's silence, 100 white balloons representing the "innocence and loss" of all the children who were born and died in Sean Ross Abbey were released by those gathered for the ceremony organised by Mary Lawlor.
In a moving address, Philomena described the moment her "darling sweet son Anthony" was taken from her one week before Christmas in 1952 when he was aged three-and-a-half.
"I cried for days, but I was told to 'stop my nonsense' and that I should be grateful he was gone to a good Catholic home in America. That is all I knew for 50 years," she said.
Anthony was adopted by a wealthy Missouri couple and became a top lawyer, eventually working with US president Ronald Reagan.
He worked under his adopted surname of Hess, became sick in the 1990s and travelled back to Ireland in a desperate bid to trace his birth mother before he died.
However, the nuns not only refused to give him information about his mother, but led him to believe she had deliberately abandoned him when he was two weeks old.
"He came home three times looking for me and each time they said no, she abandoned you at two weeks. He died thinking I had abandoned him," said Philomena.