An open letter to the houses of the Oireachtas sign now

7 August 2011


Dear Deputy / Senator,

We are supporters of David Norris’s campaign for the Presidency, who are deeply concerned at the manner in which he has had to abandon his campaign, and we believe you should be too.

David Norris is one of the few politicians in Ireland who has had the courage of his convictions. For many years, he was the only person in Irish public life prepared to identify himself as gay. Notwithstanding his flamboyant appearance and fondness for entertaining anecdotes, the battle he fought to decriminalise homosexuality was a lonely one. He was rebuffed by the High Court and Supreme Court in Ireland before succeeding in the European Court of Human Rights. Even then, it took a number of years before the Irish political establishment was prepared to change the law.

David Norris is not a member of a political party, but he has been a member of the Oireachtas for over 20 years. During that time, he has served with distinction. The Oireachtas, and Irish public life in general, has been the richer for his contribution. It would be difficult for a person like David Norris to join a political party, given the range of views that he holds, but it is one of the benefits of the flawed Senate that a man of his calibre has been able to contribute to the legislative process.

During the recent controversy, it has been suggested that David Norris had abused his office in an attempt to shield a “child rapist” or “paedophile”. Ezra Nawi, Mr Norris’s former partner, was convicted of having sex with a 15-year-old boy. The Israeli court concluded that the boy had consented to having sex with Mr Nawi. Mr Nawi himself has claimed that he believed the boy to have been over the age of consent. While the age of consent is 17 in Ireland, and 16 in Israel, in many other European countries it is as low as 14 or 15.

It is impossible to condone the sexual exploitation of a young person by a much older person. But, in the circumstances, we believe that it is scandalous, and even defamatory, to describe Mr Nawi as a paedophile or a child rapist. He committed an offence, and was convicted of it.

Senator Norris may have been mistaken in the manner in which he sought to assist his friend. But it is hard for anybody to watch a friend or family member go through a criminal trial. A plea for leniency for a convicted person is not an attempt to subvert the judicial process - it is a cry for compassion.

In the 1916 proclamation, the founding fathers of this country had high aspirations. They wrote:

“The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences ... which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.”

No country lives up to the aspirations of its founding fathers, and Ireland is no exception.

This country has allowed thousands of children to be imprisoned in homes where the managers were not subjected to proper scrutiny. It has permitted unmarried mothers to be imprisoned in slave camps where their children were seized from them. It has allowed its planning process to be subverted by financial donations to politicians and officials. It has allowed directors of banks to be paid unjustifiably high salaries and pensions while they bankrupted their own shareholders and the exchequer. It has stood by while ordinary people bought houses with borrowed money that they will never be able to repay.

No Irish politician can look back over the past 20 years and claim that he or she has lived up to the ideals of the 1916 proclamation. Many have abused their position to enrich themselves financially. Others have spent their time in office entirely focused on their own re-election. Some have stood up for the dogmas that allowed the church unaccountable management of schools and hospitals. Many have promoted the demeaning get-rich-quick ideology that has bankrupted the country. All have done too little, too late, to prevent the damage of various sorts that this country has suffered.

We believe that the failure of Irish politicians to stand up for David Norris is another example of the timidity and paralysis that characterises our political system. He has shown courage where it was lacking in others, and his downfall has been triggered by an act of compassion for a loved one.

We believe that the nomination system for the presidency is flawed, if a person who leads the race in the opinion polls cannot be placed on the ballot paper.

We believe that the leaking of David Norris’s plea for leniency was part of a carefully targetted smear campaign.

We believe, in the interests of Irish democracy, that such smear campaigns should not be allowed to succeed.

We believe that the politicians who withdrew their support from David Norris reacted too hastily, and should reconsider their position.

We believe that it is incumbent upon each senator and deputy in the Oireachtas to consider his or her own position, and decide, on principle, whether the people of Ireland should be entitled to vote for David Norris.

We believe that you, as an elected senator or deputy, must be troubled by the manner in which David Norris has felt obliged to exit the presidential race. Whichever political party you belong to, we believe that you can help to undo the damage and help him get a nomination.

In 1890, the Irish people allowed Charles Stewart Parnell, one of their greatest leaders, to be hounded out of office because of an extra-marital affair. The cause of Irish independence was set back by a generation as a result.

The cause of pluralism and tolerance in Ireland will be set back by a generation if the Irish people are not given an opportunity to vote for one of its greatest champions.

We therefore humbly beg you to support David Norris at this difficult time.


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