Norris withdraws from presidential election race


Senator David Norris has withdrawn from the presidential election campaign following the controversy over letters he wrote to the Israeli authorities seeking clemency for his former partner.

It emerged last weekend that Mr Norris wrote a letter in 1997 to the Israeli authorities pleading on behalf of Ezra Yitzhak Nawi, who had been convicted of the statutory rape of a 15-year-old boy.

Mr Norris’s campaign suffered a serious blow last night when three Independent TDs withdrew their pledge to support the Trinity Senator’s nomination.

Other members of the Dáil and Seanad who had pledged support for Mr Norris are also considering their position in the light of the disclosure that the Senator wrote a letter pleading for leniency for his former partner.

Mr Norris held a press conference outside his home in Dublin this afternoon to inform supporters he was withdrawing from the race.

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

“It is essential that I act decisively now to halt this negative process. I do not regret supporting and seeking clemency for a friend, but I do regret giving the impression that I did not have sufficient compassion for the victim of Ezra’s crime," Mr Norris said.

"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 am not afraid that Ezra might take his own life, I see that I was wrong. He served his time and never offended again.

"Yes, his actions were terrible, but my motivation to write the letter was out of love and concern. I was eager to support someone who has been very important and continues to be important in my life.

"It is very sad that in trying to help a person I loved dearly, I made a human error."

Mr Norris did not take any questions. He was applauded by onlookers after he delivered his final line, a quote from Samuel Beckett: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."

With a final wave for the cameras, Mr Norris walked up the steps to his house and closed the door behind him.

Mr Norris said this evening he would not be resigning from the Seanad.

In a statement, Labour presidential candidate Michael D Higgins paid tribute to the "grace" of the statement from Mr Norris, adding: "It is obvious that it was a difficult decision for him personally, at the end of a difficult period for himself his family and his campaign workers."

"As somebody who has shared membership of the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs committee for a number of years, I wish to pay tribute to his long-standing record around issues of human rights at home and abroad, and I believe that his is a testament that will last," Mr Higgins said.

Businessman Seán Gallagher, who is also seeking nomination to stand for the presidency, said he felt for Mr Norris and his supporters.

“Today is obviously a difficult day for Senator David Norris, and on a personal and a human level I feel for him, his friends and supporters,” Mr Gallagher said. “I would like to acknowledge the work he has done in campaigning for many important issues throughout the years.”

Several key members of the senator's campaign team resigned late last week as details of the letter emerged.

Dublin TD Finian McGrath said yesterday he could no longer support the nomination. Expressing deep regret for his decision, he said “children and the presidency have to come first”. Mr McGrath was the co-ordinator of the campaign to get the backing of 20 Oireachtas members for Mr Norris’s nomination.

Waterford TD John Halligan also announced he was withdrawing his support, as did Donegal South West TD Thomas Pringle.

Wicklow TD Stephen Donnelly, who had also been supporting Mr Norris's bid, today said the details which had emerged at the weekend were "very serious" and that he did not approve of how the Senator had made the representations.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that a number of letters written by Mr Norris on behalf of Mr Nawi have not come into the public domain. Ex-campaign workers said he wrote letters appealing for clemency for Mr Nawi to a range of public figures in Israel and beyond. After they were shown the letters last Thursday, a number of Mr Norris’s campaign team resigned.

Separately, the Israeli embassy in Dublin said allegations it had been involved in the publication of the letter written by Mr Norris to the court in Israel had "absolutely no foundation".

In a statement, the embassy said: "No such letter was or is in the possession of the embassy; as in Ireland, the judicial system in democratic Israel is entirely separate from the Government and Ministry of Foreign Affairs."