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.