Norris abandons Irish presidency bid

Having more than survived the re-emergence of controversial comments in a ten-year-old interview, independent Senator David Norris’ presidential hopes were scuppered when his campaign team resigned after being surprised by a 1997 letter to the Israeli courts pleading for clemency for his former partner and friend, Ezra Nawi, who was awaiting sentence for the statutory rape of a 15-year-old Palestinian boy in Israel in 1992.

Having failed to secure the backing of local councils, and with three TDs withdrawing their support, leaving him even further away from the 20 Oireachtas signatures needed to get onto the ballot, Senator David Norris has announced the end of his bid to become Irish President.

But as Fintan O’Toole points out in the Irish Times, “hundreds of similar letters have been written to Irish courts by other members of the Oireachtas.”

In 2002, when it emerged that the then junior minister Bobby Molloy had intervened in a much more serious way on behalf of a child rapist, Patrick Naughton, the then taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, defended him on the basis that “that’s what politicians do. A Teachta Dála is a public representative and you make representations.” There is nothing to suggest that Ahern was wrong about this. In relation to child rape alone, we know of three specific cases of TDs making pleas on their behalf. In 2007, it emerged that Fianna Fáil TD Tony Killeen had twice written to the minister for justice seeking early release for a heinous double rapist, Joseph Nugent. Fine Gael’s Pat Breen went so far as to put down a parliamentary question about when Nugent would be released. The Cork Labour TD Kathleen Lynch wrote a letter to a judge in 2008 to tell him that a convicted rapist of two children came from “a good family”.

What happened when these interventions came to public attention? Molloy eventually resigned – but that was because his office had gone even further and tried to contact the judge directly. The other three subsequently gained political promotion: Killeen to the cabinet as minister for defence; Breen to the chairmanship of the Oireachtas committee on foreign affairs; and Lynch to a junior ministry with responsibility for disability and older people. It is absolutely clear that the existing standard in Ireland is that making representations on behalf of a child rapist does not debar you from public office.

So, is Norris’s offence worse than these others? Hardly. It relates to a crime that, while utterly inexcusable, is less violent and brutal than the others. And, on a human level, it is considerably less cynical. Killeen, Lynch and Breen made their interventions purely as part of the demented system of clientelism. They did it to get votes. Norris did it out of a misguided sense of loyalty to someone who had been the love of his life.

But he should have realised the letter could resurface.  And he should have warned his campaign team.

Fintan O’Toole asks

So, we come to the key question: should David Norris be the one who takes the hit so that this kind of abuse is ended once and for all?

Will it end?  Now that David Norris has taken the hit. 

That “demented system of clientelism”, of attempted interference in due process, is also much in evidence here.

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  • pippakin

    “So, we come to the key question: should David Norris be the one who takes the hit so that this kind of abuse is ended once and for all?”

    I prefer to think that Ireland has recognised how unhealthy these interventions were, but sure if it takes Mr Norris resignation to make politicians realise that, then so be it.

  • Rory Carr

    Fintan O’Toole’s article regurgitates with more detail much of what I have already argued on Chris Donnelly’s earlier thread.

    Apart from the greater detail (on pleas in mitigation made by T.D.s on behalf of constituents convicted of quite appalling offences) he also writes much better than do I. (I was going to say that is because he is a professional, he gets paid for it – but that would be most unfair. O’Toole does not write well merely because he is paid to, he is paid because he writes so well.)

    In particular in saying,

    “So, is Norris’s offence worse than these others? Hardly. It relates to a crime that, while utterly inexcusable, is less violent and brutal than the others. And, on a human level, it is considerably less cynical. Killeen, Lynch and Breen made their interventions purely as part of the demented system of clientelism.”

    O’Toole reinforces my own earlier view:

    “In any case Norris has done no more nor less than many a local politician does for one his errant constituents (whom the TD or MLA or MP may not even know personally – but his aunt did a bit of canvassing come election time, kind of thing, ) as they find themselves up in front of the beak for much more anti-social behaviour than Norris’s friend.”

    and again, O’Toole says:

    “They did it to get votes. Norris did it out of a misguided sense of loyalty to someone who had been the love of his life.”

    which is not at all at odds with my own observation that:

    “we should in all charity recognise that Senator Norris was not using his position “to help a sex criminal” in the sense that he was aiding or condoning any criminality commited by his friend* but rather that he acted in a true and loyal fashion (as I trust any of us would have the good grace to do) towards a very close friend (and, we are told, former lover). In that regard I salute him. He is an example to us all of how friendship should be and the costs that a true exercise of it may bring.”

    which, I suppose, is why I am happy to commend this piece.

    But mostly I am happy to commend it for the sharp-barbed question that O’Toole poses to us all at the end of his article and the one which we should keep in mind over the days and weeks ahead as we internally examine all the ramifications of this most unhappy episode in Irish political life:

    “And shouldn’t we feel uneasy at the notion that the gay man whose own sexuality was criminalised for so long is held to a higher standard than straight politicians?”

  • granni trixie

    Surely when anybody writes a letter to ‘speak up’ for someone in a difficult legal position its like when one agrees to be a job referee – one has to be able to stand over whatever claims one makes about them.

    I wonder does a different political culture operate N&S – I question if it is the norm in NI for MLAs say to court votes in the way described above. If they do they certainly are taking risks likely to rebound on them.

    Also, whilst I do not like to jump on someone when they are down, I am relieved that Norris is out of the race. He never appealed to me as someone with the qualities needed to represent the country as President His gayness is irrelevant to me but funny enough I thought it appealed to many wanting to show the world that Ireland had changed. But having a gay identity just isn’t enough (quite rightly) is it?.

  • Cynic2

    Adds a whole new dimension to not wanting one of themuns in the job

  • Dec

    ‘“And shouldn’t we feel uneasy at the notion that the gay man whose own sexuality was criminalised for so long is held to ahomosexuality and underage sex higher standard than straight politicians?”’

    It’s probably worth pointing out that some of Norris’ team who resigned were gay themselves.

  • Alias

    “that’s what politicians do. A Teachta Dála is a public representative and you make representations.”

    Norris hasn’t been elected in Israel and the defendent wasn’t a constituent of his, so that isn’t relevant here.

    What Norris did was use his political office in this jurisdiction and his good standing in Irish political life to underwrite a bogus guarantee of good behaviour for a pederast should the court accept that Norris was a fit and proper person to offer it.

    What he didn’t do was inform the court that he was actually trying to get his then lover off the hook (the relationship didn’t end until 4 years after the sexual abuse of the boy) and that he was not intervening – as he had fraudulently represented his intervention to the court as being – because he was a gay rights activist and (according to him, near statesmen) who was intervening because of some human rights violation.

    He should also resign as a senator.

  • JAH

    Each generation decides on some crime or social issue which puts them beyond the pail. Currently, any association with a paedophile is political death, be one straight or gay. Look at Prince Andrew’s sudden exit from promoting Britain.

    Unfortunate for Norris, but his potential standing for President shows how far Ireland has moved socially.

  • Rory Carr

    “Each generation decides on some crime or social issue which puts them beyond the pail.”

    Are we talking milkmaids here, JAH?

  • granni trixie

    JAH: you make it sound as if society’s attitude to this crime is a temporary fad. No, the days when pedophilia and covering up is tolerated are gone. Even children themselves are now educated about their right to rights and to be heard should an adult molest them.

    If you mean that society tends to find scapegoats for its ills, I agree.

  • Drumlins Rock

    It was prob a mistake to send the letter, but not a major one, certainly not one for him to resign over, or even enough to sink his candidacy on its own. But its not on its own, there are other controversial statements over the years and a personality that tends towards controversy, not really compatible with the role he sought.

    Have only ever encountered the man once about a dozen years ago, at a Church of Ireland Youth Camp, there was a debate on Homosexuality and Christianity being compatible, Senator Norris was there to argue the case for compatibility, not surprising in the vote before hand it was about 80% disagreeing with him, after he put his case it had jumped to well over 90%, why? His whole argument was peppered with vulgarity and foul language, not the best way to put your case. Maybe he was having a bad day, but I certainly wouldn’t want him representing any country after that.

  • Rory Carr

    Hang on a minute there, Granni Trixie, there has been no inference of paedophilia here (certainly not on Senator Norris’s part) and for you to introduce the term as “this crime” in relation to the Senator’s present difficulties is part and parcel of the same insane ignorant hysteria which has so gripped Britain whipped up by the usual suspects in the tabloid press (all the while other arms of their corporate body are busy exploiting sexual deviance with pay-per-view channels offering “Barely Legal” delights for the tittilation of the discerning pervert.)

    You really ought to know better, most especially given the laudable sentiments of your final paragraph.

  • granni trixie

    Rory – no,you hang on. In no way do I make the mistake of conflating pedophilia with homosexuality,if that is the mistake you are accusing me of. I was reponding to JAH who brought up this term. Likely I have expressed myself lazily which is why you have misunderstood my meaning. Am rushing out just now but will be back to this later.

  • Rory Carr

    Granni Trixie,

    I am gladdened to know that you do not conflate the terms homosexuality and paedophilia although the immediate problem seems to be the conflation of pederasty with paedophilia (which I accept you have not made). I can see where your reply to JAH has been taken somewhat amiss by me and for that I offer my apologies.

    In fact I was so amused by JAH’s reference to “the pail” (as my response to his post might indicate) that I entirely missed his reference to paedophiles and so rather jumped the gun on you.

    Again, sincere apologies.

  • granni trixie

    So we’re’ good’ then Rory? (as I hear them saying in the soaps). Just back from a pint of cider in The North Pole pub (its on North Pole Road,geddit) so at peace with the world.

  • DC

    Ah…the morality of sexuality…a bit like beauty, in the eye of the beholder and entering into a debate about it is like walking into a mindfield. Opinion breaks into millions of pieces.

    His electoral platfrom broke away from under him like cracked ground in blistering heat.

  • Roy Walsh

    Norris is a member of an Oireachtas but, unlike Deputies who are returned by constituents, Norris represents only a few Irish students/graduates of one third level institution, this is the fallacy of O’Tooles argument and the problem with our Bunreacht, we must use this whole matter positively to reform the Seanad to provide its proper function on behalf of all our citizens rather than permitting a few elites to have an input to the legislative process denied to other citizens.

  • separatesix

    I take little interest in the likes of Norris, to me he seems strange
    almost like some kind of 19th century English dandy, I’m surprised he’s so popular with the little Irelanders.

  • Charminator

    Roy Walsh – the elites in the Irish political system need no university votes to perpetuate their existence. The political system has done that very well as it is, just look at the number of families that have dominated the Dail since the establishment of the State – and of course all with the approving votes of the People.

    But I do agree reform of the Seanad is sorely needed, perhaps even abolition. We already have a generous form of representation in the Dail: unless the Seanad can be fixed in a way which returns some form of independent thinking, removed from the party machines, then it’s hardly got a unique purpose. Strangely, the university senators have often fulfilled this independent and deliberative function in a particularly satisfactory way, as opposed to the dual retirement home and creche functions which our political parties have ascribed to it.

  • Let’s hope Dana doesn’t get to the Aras. she’s just announced she’s standing in the race, but is way too rightwing and reactionary, and would take the Presidency way back to pre Mary Robinson era.

  • Rory Carr

    Would you prefer someone trendy and cool, Madras?

    Jedward perhaps? Or maybe Dustin the Turkey if we are to have Eurovison candidates in the running.

  • Definitely none of those, Roy. Just someone a bit to the left of Mary kenny or that Dudley Edwards wan.