Norris withdraws remarks and regrets ‘any offence’
Senator accepts language used about FG’s Regina Doherty was ‘intemperate’
Fine Gael is to make a formal complaint to the Leader of the Seanad over the remarks made by independent Senator David Norris. Photograph: Frank Miller / The Irish Times
Mr Norris told the Seanad today that he was “very happy to withdraw” the remarks made “off the top” of his head. He acknowledged that they were “intemperate”.
He yesterday accused Ms Doherty of “talking through her fanny” at the launch of Fine Gael’s referendum campaign to abolish the Seanad.
Mr Norris said he had been “simply furious” and “incandescent with rage” having received a statement on Senate reform.
His remarks came after Fine Gael said it would make a formal complaint to the Leader of the Seanad over the comment made about Ms Doherty, the deputy director of elections for the Fine Gael campaign for the abolition of the Seanad.
“I object in the strongest possible way to the idea that someone who has spent years in the House should have to listen to the Regina monologue from someone who has not been a wet weekend in the Oireachtas and is talking through her fanny,” Mr Norris told the House yesterday prompting immediate protests from other Senators.
In a statement last night Ms Doherty said: “I have to admit that I was upset by the personal nature of the remarks that Senator Norris made about me in the Seanad. They were contrived and intentional.” She also described his comments as sexist and inappropriate.
This morning Mr Norris explained that he was “incandescent with rage” and was “simply furious having just possessed this mendacious document in which those of us who over the last 30 years have campaigned for Senate reform, were smeared in the nastiest way”.
He was referring to the statement released by Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton, director of elections for the abolition campaign and Ms Doherty. Mr Bruton said abolition would save the Exchequer €20 million a year.
“I accept that my language was intemperate,” Mr Norris said today. “Had I been called for an explanation at the time I would have given one. I regret any offence. The thing I regret most is this is going to be used in this dirty campaign as a diversion.”
He claimed that the public debate about the referendum to abolish the Seanad “is going to be a very, very dirty campaign and it comes from the top”.
Fine Gael party chairman Charlie Flanagan condemned Mr Norris for failing to make a full apology to his colleague. He said it was “bad manners” for the senator to side-step the issue by merely withdrawing his remarks. “This requires an unequivocal apology,” Mr Flanagan said. “David Norris is probably one of the best practitioners of the art of playing around with words. “His behaviour this week did little to enhance the status of the Seanad and he has helped those of the view that the Seanad has outlived its place in modern society.”
Earlier today, Minister for Public Reform Brendan Howlin said the debate on the Seanad should not degenerate into any personal animosity. “I expect that there would be robust debate about that but it shouldn’t be one that would degenerate into any personal animosity or personal commentary,” Mr Howlin told reporters.
Fine Gael TD Mary Mitchell O’Connor said she was “really disgusted” by Mr Norris’s “fanny” remark, describing it as crude, offensive and deeply inappropriate. “I think he is a bigger man than what he showed yesterday. I think it was misogynist what he said yesterday,” she told Newstalk Breakfast.
She believed Mr Norris “had intent” and had prepared it “in his head”, she said in a separate interview on RTÉ Radio. Ms Mitchell O’Connor said it was a “new low” and one which “diminishes women”.
“It hasn’t been a good week for Fine Gael women the way they have been treated,” she told RTÉ Radio referring also to an incident involving Fine Gael TD Áine Collins being pulled by her colleague Tom Barry onto his lap during a Dáil debate on abortion.
Mr Bruton said this morning the debate had to avoid “degenerating into name-calling” after his statement on the savings of abolishing the Seanad was compared to Nazi propaganda. He said the figures he quoted were “directly from the Oireachtas Commission.”
Fianna Fáil Senator Mary White yesterday compared Mr Bruton’s comments to “propaganda from Hitler”. She said Mr Bruton had a responsibility not to tell lies. “These people are ignorant on their information on this Senate. It does not cost €20 million a year,” she said.
Fianna Fáil Senator Darragh O’Brian was asked about the comments by Ms White and said that “those analogies do nothing for the discussion around the purpose of keeping the Seanad”. However the “misinformation” put out by the Government did not stack up and the cost was €8.8m, he told RTÉ Radio.