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For Immediate Release, Weds 22nd January 2014

Philomena Lee to visit Ireland to launch The Philomena Project

Friday 24th January 2014

Philomena Lee will be in Dublin this Friday, 24th January, to launch The Philomena Project in association with the Adoption Rights Alliance, which aims to effect legislative change by calling on the Irish state to grant access to adoption records for both in-country and Irish-US adopted people and their families. There are over 60,000 “adoption” files held by the HSE, private adoption agencies and church representatives all of which are the sole source of people’s identities. Sixty years after the introduction of legal but essentially forced adoption, The Philomena Project is calling on the Irish government to lead the way and enact legislation to allow the release of these 60,000 plus files to the people whose identities these contain. 

The Philomena Project originated with the story of one woman’s 50-year search for her son, recently brought to the world stage via the Oscar nominated film Philomena, based on journalist Martin Sixsmith’s book.  In 1952, when Philomena Lee became pregnant as a teenager in Ireland, she was sent to Sean Ross Abbey, a ‘Mother and Baby Home’ in Roscrea County Tipperary, to be taken care of. When her son was three years old, he was taken away, sold for adoption and sent to America. Although Philomena and her son looked for each other for many years, they were deliberately kept apart and were tragically never reunited. 

The Philomena Project will harness this increased awareness to the pain and loss which thousands of young women experienced over decades, to urge the Irish government, and the church when applicable, to release all information they have on these illicit adoptions, to assist in helping mothers and their children to find one another, and to create a place for these individuals to tell their stories in an effort to find closure. 

Speaking about The Philomena Project, Philomena Lee said: “I’ve been so moved by the support we’ve received, both for telling our story and for bringing attention to this experience that so many of us had. My daughter Jane and I established The Philomena Project because we've heard from so many people who saw my story and want to help. It is my hope that this effort will help us find solutions that ensure every mother and child who wants to be reunited are able to come together once again.” 

Susan Lohan, co-founder of Adoption Rights Alliance, established in 2009 to campaign for equal human and civil rights for those affected by Ireland's closed, secret adoption system said that they were honoured to be associated with The Philomena Project.  “The strength, courage and dignity of Philomena Lee has acted as a touchstone for all of those affected by forced and illegal adoptions. Her story and that of her son recounted so eloquently in both in the Lost Child of Philomena Lee and in the film adaptation Philomena have woken up many people to the crimes committed against thousands of unmarried mothers and their children under the guise of so-called legal adoption. Irish politicians have hoped that people would confuse the issue of the state-funded Mother and Baby Homes with that of the Magdalene Laundries and think it resolved.  With the launch of The Philomena Project, we can ensure Irish legislators will be held to account at home and internationally for their continued denial of the rights of at least 60,000 adopted people and an almost equal number of mothers; we will not tolerate more of their “deny til we die” strategy, we want appropriate legislation now.”   

Journalist Martin Sixsmith, author of The Lost Child of Philomena Lee will also attend the launch of The Philomena Project in Dublin. “When I was writing my book Philomena I was struck by two things,” said Sixsmith. “One was the scale of the problem, with tens of thousands of babies being taken from their mothers by a church that regarded them as fallen women. The other was the scale of human suffering I encountered as I spoke to people who had been affected by it – mothers like Philomena who have spent decades looking for their lost children; and the children themselves, now grown up but still longing to find the mother they were parted from. For both these reasons I support the efforts of Philomena Lee and the Adoption Rights Alliance in seeking greater openness and proper access to information that could help reunite those who wish to find each other.” 

The Philomena Project is a philanthropic enterprise. Its mission is three fold: the provision of campaigning mechanisms/supports/services/finance to assist other women like Philomena who have been unable to or actually prevented from tracing their children, taken from them through adoption, particularly forced and illegal adoptions; to assist the now adult children, particularly those taken to the US, to trace their natural mothers, fathers, extended families and to obtain their birth certificates and other relevant records; to campaign for open records and to lobby all Irish politicians, relevant international bodies such as the UN, UK and US politicians.

Maeve O’Rourke, recently named Family Law Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year in England for her work on the Justice for Magdalenes Campaign, welcomed the launch of The Philomena Project saying “The right of a child to preserve her identity and family relations without unlawful interference is today recognised internationally, and without hesitation, as a basic human right. To afford these rights to children who are born in Ireland today, but not to all those who are still alive and whose rights were denied in the past, amounts to repeated discrimination and injustice. Ireland is proud of its commitment to human rights standards. It needs to apply that commitment at home”.  

“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning . . . and the most disquieting loneliness." 

Alex Haley, Author of Roots 





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