Food critic in Norris libel case seeks to defend claims

A judge is to decide whether to grant food critic Helen Lucy Burke disclosure of documents which she says will support her claims that Senator David Norris had an “ambivalent” attitude towards underage sex.

Michael McDowell, counsel for Mr Norris, said in the High Court yesterday the claims in the discovery application were “far-fetched” and “outrageous.” Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns will rule on the application at a later date.

Mr Norris is suing Ms Burke and RTÉ Commercial Enterprises alleging libel over views aired on a Liveline programme months before the election.

The broadcast, on May 30, 2011, related to a January 2002 conversation between Mr Norris and Ms Burke for an article she later wrote for Magill magazine.

Mr Norris is also suing over a subsequent Liveline programme, broadcast six days before the 2011 presidential election, which discussed an eight-minute recording of that 2002 conversation which was also broadcast.

Mr Norris claims his reputation was damaged by the two broadcasts and alleges the words used in them meant, among other things, that he held evil beliefs and was unfit to be president or to hold public office.

He says views were falsely attributed to him in the May 2011 broadcast which he never held or expressed, and the quoted material was false and a deliberate distortion of what he said in his 2002 interview with Ms Burke.

In her defence, Ms Burke pleads her opinions of Mr Norris were based on allegations of fact specified in the programmes and they related to a matter of public interest.

She also pleads, among other defences, that the words were published in good faith, were honestly held, and it was reasonable and fair to publish them.

She denies Mr Norris was defamed, says he never challenged the Magill article she wrote based on that interview and that she had accurately reported the tenor of that 2002 conversation.

In advance of the trial of the defamation action, Ms Burke has asked the High Court for direct discovery of documents, which she says she needs to show Mr Norris’ claim is unsustainable.

She says the application relates to representations made by Mr Norris in 1997 to the Israeli courts, on Seanad Éireann notepaper, urging clemency for his former partner, Ezra Yizhak Nawi, who had been convicted in 1992 for statutory rape of a 15-year-old boy.

She also wants any material Mr Norris has relating to his support for poet Cathal Ó Searcaigh, who had been subject of a TV documentary, Fairytale of Kathmandu, which detailed Mr Ó Searcaigh’s relationship with teenage Nepalese boys.

Peter Shanley, counsel for Ms Burke, said his client believes the material sought will support her contention that Mr Norris had an ambivalent attitude towards underage sex between men and boys and to sexual relations generally.

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