Doubt over Norris bid as McGrath pulls support

Mon, Aug 1, 2011, 01:00

Senator David Norris’s presidential campaign received a major setback tonight after a key backer withdrew his support.

Dublin North Central TD Finian McGrath had been co-ordinating Mr Norris’s campaign to get the signatures of Oireachtas members but said this evening that he would not be signing Senator Norris's nomination papers.

A number of Mr Norris’s 15 Oireachtas backers have expressed continuing support, while some are considering whether they can honour their commitment in light of revelations at the weekend that Mr Norris wrote a letter in 1997 to the Israeli authorities pleading for clemency for his former partner who had been convicted of the statutory rape of a 15-year-old boy.

Director of communications Jane Cregan and director of elections Derek Murphy resigned from Mr Norris’s campaign team on Friday.

Senator Norris needs 20 signatures from members of Oireachtas before he can stand for election.

Another Oireachtas member, Waterford TD John Halligan, also said tonight he was withdrawing his support, in a further blow to Senator Norris.

“It is with regret that I withdraw my support for the nomination of Senator Norris," Mr Halligan said in a statement. “I believe Senator Norris is a decent man and I acknowledge the great work he has done for the less well off in our society, particularly on civil rights issues. However I feel it was a great error of judgment on his part to write the letter to the Israeli authorities appealing for leniency for Ezra Yizhak Nawi.

“The office of the President must be beyond reproach and so, after consulting with my supporters, I have decided it would be inappropriate of me to support his bid for nomination.”

Mr Norris was expected to hold a pres conference tomorrow.

Independent TD for Wexford Mick Wallace earlier today said he did not like what he had heard about Mr Norris but that he would continue to support the Senator.

Mr Wallace said that Mr Norris was wrong to send the letter but “I would forgive him…I have made a lot of mistakes myself”.

Mr Wallace, who is on holiday in Italy, told RTÉ News at One that he believed some supporters of Mr Norris might waver over the controversy but the Senator should still secure a nomination.

He said the public should be allowed to decide whether or not Mr Norris should be president.

Donegal South West TD Thomas Pringle also said he would be seeking the views of his supporters on whether to continue his commitment.

“I said I would be supporting Senator Norris but I now believe my own supporters would want to further discuss my commitment in the light of latest details,” he said. “I will be meeting and talking to my supporters and I expect to be making a statement within a couple of days.”

Other Norris supporters in the Oireachtas said they would continue to back his campaign but they also expressed disquiet.

His fellow Trinity College Senator Seán Barrett said he would still sign his colleague’s nomination papers but added that the controversy would make it extremely difficult for Mr Norris to get on the ballot paper.

Dublin Central TD Maureen O’Sullivan reiterated her support, saying it was important he should not be excluded from the election.

Wicklow TD Stephen Donnelly also said he would continue his support as it was not democratic for members of the Oireachtas to block a candidate. He added that it was wrong for Mr Norris to have written the controversial letters given the personal nature of his relationship with the individual involved.

Senator John Crown said he would stick by his pledge to nominate Mr Norris and leave it to the Irish people to decide who should be president.

Mr Norris was not available for comment yesterday but said in an interview with the Sunday Independent that he remained “absolutely committed” to the election.

A number of Mr Norris’s supporters expressed concern at the way the information about the letters sent to the Israeli authorities came into the public domain.

“I would deeply resent it if there is anybody out there, whether in Israel or in the Irish political system, who is trying to undermine Irish democracy by influencing the course of the campaign,” Mr McGrath said.

Labour Party presidential candidate Michael D Higgins said nobody involved in his party’s campaign had anything to do with the disclosures. “I don’t approve of or indulge in that kind of politics,” he said.

The latest controversy involving Mr Norris developed on Friday when a number of key members of his campaign, including his director of elections Derek Murphy and his director of communications Jane Cregan, resigned. They left the campaign when they were informed by Mr Norris on Thursday night of the letters he had written in 1997 appealing for clemency to an Israeli court on behalf of his former partner.