Norris opposed 'arbitrary age considerations' for sexual relations


AGE OF CONSENT:THE SEANAD record shows Independent presidential candidate Senator David Norris has said he is opposed to “arbitrary age considerations” when it comes to the age of consent for sex.

Last night at the launch of his campaign headquarters in Duke Street, Dublin, Mr Norris said he had expressed a “subtle view” during a Seanad debate on the Sex Offenders Bill, which took place on May 30th, 2001. “I have a right to raise ideas in the interests of the vulnerable,” he added.

During the TV3 presidential debate on Tuesday night, presenter Vincent Browne put it to Mr Norris that he had opposed the idea of an age of consent. “No I have not done so. That is not true,” Mr Norris replied.

The age of consent is 17.

In the course of the 2001 Seanad debate, Mr Norris said: “I am against the idea of arbitrary age considerations and in favour of a principle of consent.”

Senators were discussing an exemption that would allow for the drawing of a distinction between sexual activity taking place between young people of a broadly similar age and cases where one person was significantly older than the other, or where an abuse of authority or trust may be involved.

Sexual relations would not be deemed offences under the Bill if one person was aged more than 15 but less than 17 and the other not more than three years older.

A proposed amendment to reduce the age differential from three years to two was rejected by the then minister of state for health Mary Hanafin. Mr Norris said he also opposed the proposed amendment, adding that there was no recognition or understanding of the whole area of gay sexuality in the Bill.

“My experience of this area, in founding counselling organisations and so on, is that whether society likes it very frequently and, in most cases, viewed positively by the subject, a young gay man’s experience is in partnership with somebody who is some years older and seen by the younger person as a secure and reassuring entry into the full expression of sexuality,” he told the Seanad.

The Senator then turned to prison terms for people found guilty of sexual assault. “If somebody is under the age of 17 years, regardless of whether there is consent, in legal terms it is defined as an assault. No consent can be deemed possible by a person under a certain age so a situation may arise where the relationship is perceived by the two parties engaged in it as consenting, yet the law describes it as assault and defilement and apportions severe penalties in terms of imprisonment or the social stigma of being added to a register.

“I accept the enormous public concern about this issue, especially because so much tragic information has been given to the public in the area of paedophilia. The minister of state used the word appropriately but unfortunately often in these discussions it is not used appropriately and people assume that certain types of behaviour of which they disapprove are paedophilia when they are not. I am against the idea of arbitrary age considerations and in favour of a principle of consent.”