Norris admits making 'human error'


Senator David Norris yesterday withdrew his candidacy from the presidential election in the autumn, admitting he made a “human error” in trying “to help a person I loved dearly”.

In a brief but dramatic address on the steps of his home on North Great George’s Street, Dublin, Mr Norris said he needed to act decisively to halt the negativity and controversy that had engulfed his campaign since the weekend. The dignity of the office of president was in danger of being tarnished by continuing lurid headlines about his past, he said.

“I deeply regret the most recent of all the controversies concerning my former partner of 25 years ago, Ezra Nawi,” said Mr Norris. “The fallout from his disgraceful behaviour has now spread to me and is in danger of contaminating others close to me both in my political and personal life.”

Mr Norris’s decision, widely expected, brought to an end almost four days of silence from the Dublin University Senator since it was disclosed he wrote a letter of clemency to an Israeli court on behalf of Mr Nawi in 1997. Mr Nawi was convicted of the statutory rape of a 15-year-old boy and subsequently spent one month in prison.

Mr Norris read from a prepared statement, expressing regret for the controversy and accepting he was wrong in writing the letter.

He struck a note of defiance in saying he neither regretted supporting nor seeking clemency for his friend but regretted giving the impression he did not have sufficient compassion for the victim. “I accept that more than a decade and a half later when I have now reviewed the issue and am not emotionally involved, when I was afraid that Ezra might take his own life, I see that I was wrong.”

According to several people who spoke to Mr Norris at the weekend, the Senator remained determined to stand until Monday night, when three Independent TDs announced they were withdrawing their support. Mr Norris told Today FM’s The Last Word yesterday that, at that stage, it became clear support was beginning to drain away and it would not have been possible to attract support from 20 Senators and TDs.

“It was going to become much nastier and much worse . . . Other people would have got caught up collaterally,” he said.

Mr Norris said he had been hurt and shocked by the abrupt resignation of key members of his campaign last Thursday, when they first learned of the existence of the correspondence with the Israeli court.

He said what hurt him most and gave him a slight sense of betrayal was that those members of his team believed he deliberately concealed the fact of the letters. He said that following earlier controversies over magazine interviews, he had trawled back 10 years to see if there were any other potentially contentious incidents or comments. He said he had genuinely forgotten about the letters, partly because of the passage of time and partly because of their context. “I am responsible for that but not responsible in a deliberate way,” he said.

Mr Norris dismissed speculation that his future in the Seanad was in question: “Time will tell. This Government may last four [more] years. At that stage I will be 71 . . . I am certainly not giving up now. There are too many things I am interested in.”

He accepted that he would have found it very difficult to recover from the controversy, even if he had garnered the necessary support.

“I believe the office of president is a very important and symbolic one that should not be tarnished. The lurid headlines being flung around would have made it difficult for me to unite the people behind me,” he said.

In making his statement, Mr Norris said he was proud to have made it possible for “a gay person to be seen as a viable candidate for the highest office in the land”. He concluded by quoting Samuel Beckett. “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”