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Philomena re-ignites 'stolen babies' controversy in Ireland


Story by Jack Foley

HIT British movie Philomena has re-ignited the controversy over the so-called “stolen babies” in Ireland.

The film is based on the true story of Philomena Lee, a devout Irish Catholic woman, who decides to find her son more than 50 years after she was forced, as an unmarried mother, to give him up for adoption by nuns who also took her in.

It is being viewed as an awards contender, not only for its script (co-written by one of the film’s leads, Steve Coogan), but also for the central performance of Dame Judi Dench as Lee.

But while proving as popular with audiences as critics, the film has also re-opened the controversy surrounding one of the darkest chapters in Irish history.

According to a report in The Guardian newspaper, adoption rights organisations claim that calls to their Dublin offices and hits on their Facebook pages have trebled since the film opened from families who believe that they were also the victims of church dogma – ie, their babies were taken away, and sometimes sold for adoption to wealthier families, because their unmarried mothers were deemed immoral.

Campaigners insist that the level of attention the film has brought to the issue could well dwarf the previously reported controversies surrounding the Catholic church run Magdalene laundries, or the abuse of boys in Ireland’s notorious industrial schools.

And they have now called on Dame Judi Dench to champion their cause as she continues to promote the film around the world and attends awards ceremonies.

As yet, Dame Judi has not commented on the pleas but her co-star Coogan announced on Saturday (November 16) that he would more than happily “wade in” to the debate.

He said: “I will absolutely do anything to help them. The church reaction has been same old, same old. I am happy to wade in.”

Susan Lohan, who co-founded the Adoption Rights Alliance and who was taken away from her mother in 1965, said similar victims to Philomena Lee would be delighted if Dench spoke out on their behalf as they continued their campaign for justice.

She told The Guardian: “We would like her to announce to the worldwide TV audience that the practice of unlawful containment of unmarried women and girls in these mother and baby homes has never been investigated by the Irish state. There was no apology nor has redress ever occurred.”

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