Philomena Lee gives support to new adoption bill

Seanad due to debate legislation which could give 50,000 adopted people the right to their birth cert

Philomena Lee with her daughter Jane Libberton photographed in the Merrion Hotel in Dublin earlier this year. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Philomena Lee with her daughter Jane Libberton photographed in the Merrion Hotel in Dublin earlier this year. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

Philomena Lee, whose search for her son brought world-wide attention and an Oscar-nominated film, has thrown her support behind a new bill which provides greater rights for adopted people in Ireland.

This week the Seanad will debate the Adoption (Identity & Information) Bill which would provide up to 50,000 adopted people with the right to their birth cert for the first time.

The legislation was produced by Senator Averil Power, who was adopted from a mother-and-baby home, and is co-sponsored by Senators Jillian van Turnhout, a children’s rights campaigner, and Fidelma Healy Eames, an adoptive mother.

Speaking ahead of the debate, Ms Lee said said she was pleased to support legislation that would recognise the rights of all adopted people, mothers and families.

“If this legislation had been in place years ago, Anthony and I would have been reunited with each other before he died,” she said.

“ Instead, he died believing I had rejected him. It is too late for us, but would be a big help to other women who were separated from their sons and daughters by adoption. I hope every Senator will do what’s right and support it.”

Ms Lee added that she hoped her candour in coming forward would help mothers in similar situations shed the “stigma of secrecy and shame they have carried for far too long”.

Under the Bill, every adopted person would have a right to their birth cert listing their original name and their parents’ names.

In addition, adoptees and natural parents could choose whether they were happy to have their contact details shared with each other.

However, parents would still have a right to prevent the release of their contact details.

Ms Power (Fianna Fáil) said for too long adopted people have been robbed of their identities and denied basic information about themselves and their parents that others take for granted.

“Thousands of Irish adoptees don’t know their original names, who their parents are or even if there is a serious illness that runs in their family. Not knowing is a source of great pain and anxiety. Our Bill is designed to change this,” she said.

The legislation was drafted by Dr Fergus Ryan, law lecturer at Maynooth University and an expert in family law.

He said the Bill aimed to balance the adoptee’s right to identity with a natural parent’s right to privacy by setting up a structured way for both parties to obtain information about each other.

Legislation to enhance the rights of adopted people has been promised by the Government for the past three years.

A spokesman for Minister for Children James Reilly said work was ongoing on a Bill and the Senators’ proposed legislation would be considered.

He said attempting to balance the rights of adoptees and natural parents had thrown up a number of legal issues but it was the Minister’s intention to go as far as legally possible in dealing with the area.