Norris hopes in tatters

DAVID NORRIS’S presidential hopes were fading fast last night after key supporters, TDs Finian McGrath, John Halligan and Thomas Pringle, all withdrew their support for his nomination.

The independent presidential candidate had been expected to hold a press conference today and vow to continue fighting to get his name on the ballot paper, despite the controversy that has threatened to derail his campaign. However, it was unclear last night whether he would press ahead with his bid.

At this stage, Mr Norris can only be certain of the support of five Oireachtas members, and confirmation of the loss of support of the three independent TDs is a major blow.

Mr McGrath said he was regrettably withdrawing his backing as “children and the presidency had to come first”. He is expected to make a detailed official statement today.

Mr Halligan said: “Senator Norris is a decent man and I acknowledge the great work he has done for the less well off in our society, particularly on civil rights issues. However, I feel it was a great error of judgment on his part to write the letter to the Israeli authorities appealing for leniency for Ezra Yizhak Nawi. The office of the President must be beyond reproach and so, after consulting with my supporters, I have decided it would be inappropriate of me to support his bid for nomination.”

Mr Pringle said: “Ultimately, I feel that had I been aware of this letter, then I don’t believe I would have supported Senator Norris.”

Mr Norris could not be contacted this weekend as controversy erupted over a letter he had written to an Israeli court in 1997 asking it not to jail his former partner, who had been convicted of statutory rape.

At today’s press conference, Mr Norris looked set to tell people he is the same person as he was last week, when he led opinion polls.

He spent the weekend pleading with TDs and senators who had previously pledged to sign his nomination papers to continue their support.

He needs the signatures of 20 Oireachtas members, including his own, if he is to contest the race.

Mr Norris has pulled out of plans to chair Vincent Browne’s current affairs programme on TV3 tonight.

Israel yesterday denied any involvement in the controversy. Mr Norris suggested in an interview with the Sunday Independent that there may have been “Israeli involvement” in revealing the details of the conviction of Mr Nawi — an Israeli who clashed with authorities in his campaign for the rights of Palestinians.

The Labour Party also denied involvement after a pro-Israeli blogger, John Connolly, who reported the conviction last week, said he was tipped off by a Labour supporter.

Independent TDs Maureen O’Sullivan, Mick Wallace and Stephen Donnelly, and Independent Senators John Crown and Sean Barrett have publicly said they still intend to sign Mr Norris’s nomination papers.

Wexford TD Mick Wallace said that, while Mr Norris was “wrong” to send the letter, “he’s a good man at heart and would make a good president”.

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