Belfast Telegraph

I hope Philomena's tale ends plight of stolen children

Jane Graham

There has been much oohing and cooing at pictures of Simon Cowell stroking the cheek of his newborn son this week.

And while some (yup, me) have made needlessly smartass comments regarding the unusually genuine nature of the new daddy's assertion that he had no idea how much love he'd feel (you know the sort of cheap, snidey thing; 54 years is a long time to go before it occurs that there may be an object of fascination equal to that which greets you in the mirror), most of us probably felt a tiny tug of the heart at the sight of the Dark Lord's big hairy hand softly caressing the downy skin of his newborn.

Babies aren't for everyone, but for most of us who've had one, there is unique power in anything which jolts the memory of those first few moments, when it hits you that you need never again wonder if you'd unhesitatingly take a bullet for someone else, when you realise life will never be the same again, and you find yourself almost immediately unable to remember exactly who you were before you had a child.

Were you 'unfinished'? Or is your brain tricking you into re-assessing the 'point' of you now that there's serious work to be done?

Either way, giving birth, nurturing a new life which has an unrivalled connection to yours is, for most of us, the most seismic event in our lives.

And those early months and years, when that new life entirely trusts and depends on us, may be the most edifying and emotionally deep-welling experience we'll ever have.

Which is why the idea of having our just-delivered child thrust from under us, to be told that we have no right to ever see him or her again – and our baby, our flesh and blood, who has already fought to curl a tiny finger around ours, will never know who we are – is, to any decent person, a grotesque perversion of the most basic human right. And yet as we all know, it happened, repeatedly, in Ireland, for many years, carried out by supposedly pious people who no doubt regarded themselves as perfectly acceptable beings.

The stories of all the stolen babies and destroyed lives has been told many times, in newspapers and films, from Peter Mullan's bloodcurdling Magdalene Sisters to Stephen Frears' Philomena, whose recent Bafta win has again shed light on Ireland's medieval adoption laws.

And every time the rest of the western world pays attention, the same thing happens: incredulous voices are raised by innocent newcomers, outraged and baffled by Ireland's continuing adherence to an uncivilised and preternaturally cruel statute which refuses adopted people access to their own adoption records.

Shamefully, in a country whose history presents a unique argument for exceptional state aid to trace birth parents, the damaging culture of closure, secrecy and denial goes on.

Philomena Lee herself, whose son was taken from her after over three years of bonding (remember your child at three-and-a-half? Was there ever a time in your life you yearned for them more?), is fully behind a new call to change these inhumane restrictions, which of course do not apply in the rest of the UK.

The film she inspired has led to a rise in women in Ireland attempting to trace their lost children – a phenomena dubbed 'the Philomena effect' – and Lee has even met Pope Francis to tell him of her hope for a conclusive re-think.

The question is: just who in Ireland is still arguing that the status quo is justifiable? Let's damn well see the whites of their eyes.

Belfast Telegraph

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