Adoption rights campaigner Philomena Lee has welcomed the Government's proposed Adoption Bill provided it allows adopted children full access to their identity.

Ms Lee, whose devotion to finding her adopted son inspired the film 'Philomena', was speaking at an event in Roscrea to commemorate all the woman and children who stayed at Sean Ross Abbey, and where her son Anthony is buried.

The 82-year-old grandmother said Ireland needs to move to a more open adoption system similar to the UK.

She said: "Of course I would welcome change. I don't see why the rest of the world is not like the UK."

Ms Lee said "It's not about bothering people that don't want to be bothered, it's about getting your identity and you would welcome that change."

"It's about identity but it's also a genetic entitlement." She said.

Ms Lee, who lives in St Alban's in the UK, was at the event with her daughter Jane Libberton.

Ms Libberton said: "I think most people who were adopted are very sensitive.

"If I went looking for my mother and she didn't want to know me I would understand that and I would accept that but at least I would know who I was and there may be aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters who do want to know."

Susan Lohan of the  Adoption Rights Alliance said: "There are people in Leinster House who would have us believe that natural mothers do not want contact with the children that they lost to adoption, that they are somehow afraid of those children."

Ms Lohan said the leaked details of the the bill, which is due to be published soon, "does not give us much hope," adding, "it seems they are continuing to want us to believe that natural mothers are afraid of their children and don't want any contact.

"Phil's story and Anthony's story make an absolute lie of that and we must always have that at the forefront of our minds." 

After a minute's silence, 100 white balloons representing the "innocence and loss" of all the children who were born and died in Sean Ross Abbey were released into the air by more than 100 people gathered for the ceremony organised by Mary Lawlor.

Among those in attendance were Fintan Dunne and Kathy McMahon of the First Mothers group who strongly urged the Government not to include any contact veto in the proposed bill.

"We should be aiming to encourage re-connection and eventual reconciliation; that's the psychologically healthy outcome for all concerned and should be our primary public health goal," said Mr Dunne.

"We cannot allow a narrow legislative approach to inform us. Any introduction of a contact veto would create an impression that birth mothers need to be afraid of this adopted person coming. This is the whole impression that is being created and fostered by even saying such a word," he said.

Sandra Merity, a senior social worker with the child and family agency TUSLA , urged anyone seeking records about Sean Ross Abbey to contact the adoption agency in Waterford that holds the registrar for the mother and baby home.  

"Clearly the history we hold in our offices contains the many traumatic stories of thousands women and babies and we want to get the message out that we can be contacted and that we will try to help people who want to get in touch with family."

In a moving address Ms Lee described the moment her "darling sweet son Anthony" was taken from her one week before Christmas in 1952 when he was aged three-and-a-half.

"I cried for days but I was told to 'stop my nonsense' and that I should be grateful he was gone to a good Catholic home in America. That is all I knew for 50 years..."

Anthony was adopted from Sean Ross Abbey by a wealthy Missouri couple and became a top lawyer, eventually working with President Ronald Reagan.

Anthony, who worked under his adopted surname of Hess, became sick in the 1990s and travelled back to Ireland in a desperate bid to trace his birth mother before he died.

However, the nuns not only refused to give him information about his mother but led him to believe she had deliberately abandoned him at two weeks old.

"The sad part is that he came home three times looking for me and each time they said no she abandoned you at two weeks ... So he died thinking I had abandoned him that's the sad part," said Ms Lee.