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Real-life Philomena goes to Washington, seeks help on Irish adoption law

Philomena Lee, whose life was featured in the Oscar Best Picture nominated film “Philomena", arrives at the 25th Annual Producers Guild of A
Philomena Lee, whose life was featured in the Oscar Best Picture nominated film “Philomena", arrives at the 25th Annual Producers Guild of A

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The 80-year-old Irish woman who inspired the Oscar-nominated film "Philomena" took her campaign for access to adoption records to the U.S. Congress on Thursday, and a senator said lawmakers might urge Ireland to act on the issue.

Philomena Lee, who searched for 50 years for the son she was forced to give up as a teenager, launched a campaign last week calling on Dublin to pass laws for the release of more than 60,000 adoption files held by the state, private adoption agencies and the Catholic Church.

Like thousands of other children, Lee's son was adopted by an American family, and she said she was overwhelmed by the support her story has generated in the United States. "Philomena" received four Academy Award nominations this month, including one for actress Judi Dench, who plays Lee.

"This has been such an experience. It's such a welcome from the American people. It's been fantastic. Hectic, mind you, but fantastic," she told reporters after meeting Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat.

Lee, like many unmarried mothers in 1950s Ireland, was forced to work in a convent laundry while her child was put up for adoption. Her son was adopted at age 3 by a family in St. Louis, in McCaskill's state, and died before he was able to see his mother again.

Lee said access to records would have provided a different outcome to her story.

INFLUENCE THE PROCESS

McCaskill said she would meet fellow lawmakers to discuss how to express support for the Irish government's swift passage of legislation to release adoption records.

"We are going to try, my colleagues, to do what we think we can to influence this process in Ireland," she said.

The issue of adoption records also could arise during Senate confirmation hearings on whoever the Obama administration nominates to be ambassador to Ireland, she said.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny's government has said it was preparing a bill to deal with the tracing of adoption information.

But Ireland's Adoption Rights Alliance has accused ministers of paying lip service, as a 1998 Irish Supreme Court ruling would still deprive adopted people of the right to know their origins. The Alliance is working alongside Lee's campaign, called the "Philomena Project."

Although the movie shows Lee in Washington during her search for her son, her current trip to the U.S. capital is her first. She and her daughter will attend the Academy Awards show on March 2 in Los Angeles.

"After few more weeks I'll be back down to being an ordinary housewife. The thing is at least I've have started something with this trip, with the adoption rights," she said.

Lee also met U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Representative Joseph Kennedy of Massachusetts, both Democrats, and Irish Ambassador to the United States, Anne Anderson.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and David Gregorio)

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