Philomena Lee:  Mother & Baby Homes survivors should be paid compensation

Philomena Lee:  Mother & Baby Homes survivors should be paid compensation

Philomena Lee was 'dismayed' that details from the report were leaked to a Sunday newspaper.

Philomena Lee has called for Mother and Baby Homes survivors to be paid compensation for their “unbearable suffering and loss”.

Speaking ahead of the publication of the report tomorrow, she also said she was “dismayed” that details from the report were leaked to a Sunday newspaper.

Ms Lee, whose life was the subject of a film, said: “I am dismayed that portions of the report have been leaked ahead of the survivors having sight of it and digesting its findings.

“This will undoubtedly add to the heartache and trauma of those directly affected and I am concerned for the welfare of all.” 

Irish people owe it to the memory of those mothers and children, who have died without knowing the truth and to resolve that such atrocities will never be allowed to happen again

Speaking of the difficulties adopted people face in trying to trace their birth parents, she said: “It saddens me to hear from hundreds of adopted people that the Irish state seeks to prevent them from knowing the truth about their early lives and treats them no better than criminals.”

She said they are denied their own names, their own birth certs, access to their files and the truth of their family destruction.

“It seems to me that this is a deliberate ploy to hide from the survivors and the world the shameful way they treated our children," Ms Lee said.

“For the purposes of healing, it is essential the Irish State and various churches involved in the enslavement of unmarried mothers and the trading of their children, (should) apologise, without reservation.” 

She said she has “waited decades” for the Mother and Baby Homes report.

It is, she said, the moment when Ireland reveals how tens of thousands of unmarried mothers and beloved children, such as her son Anthony, were “torn asunder”.

This happened, she said, simply because they were unmarried at the moment their children were born.

In her own case, she had been sent to a local orphanage after her mother died when she was just six years old, along with her two sisters.

Run by the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, Ms Lee lived at the Sean Ross Abbey Mother and Baby Home in Roscrea, Co Tipperary, for 12 years.

She emerged at the age of 18 and soon met the father of her son, Anthony.

Ms Lee, whose life story was made into an Oscar-nominated movie, was sent back to Sean Ross Abbey after she became pregnant.

She raised her son there for three years before he was adopted to the US.

They never saw each other again despite both of them searching for each other at the same time.

My pregnancy was met with horror and I was sent to Sean Ross Abbey without a clue of what was in store for me. When at Sean Ross, I was relegated to the role of an unpaid servant, deprived of my liberty, my independence, my autonomy and was subject to the tyranny of the nuns 

She said the nuns told her and the other women daily, that they “were shameful and sinful” and that they “needed to atone for that” by working for their keep and surrendering their children to the nuns “for forced adoption”.

Ms Lee said despite enduring a very painful, breech birth, she was “taunted” by the nuns.

She recalled how they jeered at her about how her pain was a “punishment for my promiscuity”.

“They even told the other girls to get down on their knees and pray for me as I might not survive,” she said. “I loved my son immediately and I was his mother at Sean Ross Abbey and we saw each other every day.

“He was a beautiful boy and very, very bright and I knew he would succeed at whatever he did.” 

She added: “In my Anthony's case, he was selected for trafficking to America without my knowledge or consent and shortly after his third birthday.

“He was suddenly taken by the nuns along with his best friend, Mary, and sent off to Shannon Airport to fly to the US for a new life, with strangers, when he had never before left my side or even the grounds of Sean Ross Abbey.” 

The removal of her son had a devastating impact on Ms Lee.

“In the midst of my own devastating grief, it cut me to the quick to think how Anthony and Mary might be feeling,” she said.

Everything they had known and loved, their mothers, their names, their friends, their culture, were gone, taken like them, never to be mentioned again 

She said it broke her heart “all over again” when she discovered Anthony  — under his new, adopted name of Michael Hess — had returned many times to Sean Ross Abbey to try and find Ms Lee.

Despite his efforts though, he was repeatedly told that not only could she not be traced but that she had actually abandoned him when he was a few days old.

And from her side, she faced the same whenever she tried to trace her son.

“I had also been at Sean Ross Abbey, along with my daughter Jane, many times, looking for word of Anthony to be told that he was untraceable and that I should live with that,” she said.

Anthony died without hearing from the nuns that they knew exactly where Ms Lee was.

Ms Lee said the nuns also didn’t tell him he had actually spent three years living with her in the home, or that she later had also tried to find him.

She also said that despite their refusal to help, the nuns accepted two substantial donations from Anthony before he died and from his partner after his death, to have a gravestone erected at Sean Ross Abbey.

The stone bears his original name and the inscription: “A man of two nations and many talents".

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