Norris 'confident' of nomination


Senator David Norris has said he is confident he can secure a nomination to run as a candidate for the presidency and has urged people to judge him on his track record rather than a few recent “sensational” newspaper headlines.

Mr Norris said he had four months to win a nomination and that he intended to use that time to prove to the Irish public that he was "the right person" and that he could be statesman like if elected.

He was responding to an interview conducted last year which was published today, in which he was quoted as saying he did not support an age of consent for sex. The report also stated that Mr Norris was “pro-prostitution”, “pro-abortion” and that he believed drugs should be legalised.

It followed the resurrection last week of a 10-year-old article in Magill magazine, which the Senator has dismissed as a calculated smear designed to damage his presidential campaign. He has already insisted that comments in that article about sexual activity between older and younger men and boys had been taken out of context by the interviewer, restaurant critic and columnist Helen Lucy Burke.

This evening, Mr Norris told TV3 that he "of course" regretted bringing up the subject of paedophilia in the interview but insisted that he was an "open book".

He said past candidates such as Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese had questions raised about them during their respective campaigns but eventually succeeded in coming through with "great dignity and grace".

"I expect to do the same," he said.

Mr Norris said he regretted describing Pope Benedict, while he was still a cardinal, as a Nazi in an interview a number of years ago. He said it was in the context of very strong comments from the Vatican which he alleged had resulted in young people attempting suicide.

Earlier, Mr Norris told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that all of the issues raised in the interview in today’s Irish Daily Mail had been “discussed in every legislature in Europe and I’ve taken part in an open and frank way about these matters”.

He said he understood that the newspaper needed to “boost circulation” but he believed he should be judged on his deeds, on his record in the Seanad and on what he had actually said in debates.

“I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to be judged simply on a couple of sensational newspaper headlines.”

Mr Norris said he was “not pro-abortion” but added "I do certainly believe that access to information is the best way to reduce the incidence of abortion”.

When asked about a quote attributed to him in the Mail interview indicated he did not favour an age of consent, but rather a “principle of consent”, Mr Norris said: “I don’t think people realise how widely differing the ages of consent are throughout Europe. In Spain, which is quite close to Ireland in ethos – it’s a deeply Catholic country – the age of consent is 13.”

He had said he believed that where two young people had sex who were very close in age, but where one of them was marginally younger, that the judiciary should be allowed to examine the principle of consent. “Everybody knows..that quite young people are having sexual relations experimentally. I think that’s wrong. I think that’s bad, I think it’s not good for them.”

But to send them to prison, juvenile institutions was “questionable”, he said.

“In the history of what’s happened to children in our State institutions, I think we have to raise and look at these issues very honestly. I have always at the centre placed the most vulnerable, placed the victim and I make no apology for that.”

Asked about the distinction between pederasty, which he “appeared to support” and paedophilia, Mr Norris said: “I abhor and condemn with every fibre of my being any abuse of children, whether it’s physical, sexual or psychological.”

He said he did not think people understood that pederasty was something “quite different” from classical Greece. “It’s an idea in Plato’s Symposium.”

He said that when he grew up as a young gay man in Dublin, there were no social outlets for gay men.

“I was left in ignorance by society. I didn’t consciously meet another gay male until I was over 20 years old. The subject was surrounded by silence and fear.”

The discovery of the Symposium was “a wonderful day” for him, “because here was a group of the greatest philosophers in Greece discussing love between men", he said.

“And in particular between young adults and some slightly older men. It’s a debate over a dinner party.”

When asked whether his statements, as a scholar and as someone “experienced with words” had raised a question of his judgment, Mr Norris said: “We all learn. Nobody is perfect. I am not claiming to be perfect, I am human.”

He said he had started his campaign on March 14th , a year after the interview published today had been conducted.

“I have been judicious. I have been calm. I have been passionate about what I want to achieve.”

He said he intended “to continue with renewed strength and determination to represent all the people”.

Every candidate in every election had personal views and had been involved in issues previously. “And when they put themselves, particularly for the presidency, they have to put those personal views aside so they can represent all the people of Ireland.”

Questioned about why he spoke out in the Seanad against a documentary on the poet Cathal Ó Searcaigh and his relationships with young men in Nepal, Mr Norris urged people to “read the record”.

He said he had indicated at the time that he believed it could be a situation that could lead to a smear campaign. “Everybody was afraid to say anything.”

He did not know Mr Ó Searcaigh, but had met him once on the street in Dublin. “I don’t believe in trial by media. I suggested that the Oireachtas broadcasting committee should examine the film before it was shown and I felt that the sensationalism in the newspapers and on certain popular discussion programmes on radio would make it very difficult for a proper trial,” he said.

Mr Norris said that “if there were issues there”, they should have been taken to court.

“Evidence should have been produced and prosecutions made. And I wanted to make sure that those principles of truth and honesty – and I said them in the appropriate place in a calm and dignified way. But to say that I endorsed paedophilia or that I defended the accusations there, that is wrong. And I say please look at my record.”

He argued that the question of legalising drugs was part of a “wide-ranging debate” that was taking place all over Europe. “I am out there looking for the nomination. I am asking to be allowed to put myself before the people and I am saying do not judge me on a couple of newspaper headlines. Judge me on my deeds,” Mr Norris said.

He said he had helped to introduce changes in Irish society such as the decriminalisation of homosexuality, and the recent civil partnership legislation. He stood for “the vulnerable in society” but knew there was a difference between being a campaigning senator and being a president, which was to a large extent a “ritual figure”.

Early this morning, Mr Norris published a lengthy statement on his campaign website stating that of the quotes, opinions and beliefs "on a range of societal issues" attributed to him in recent days some were correct and others "grossly inaccurate".

Mr Norris needs to secure the support of 20 members of the Oireachtas or four county councils to be a candidate for the presidency.