Senator Norris - Inevitable but very regrettable

SENATOR David Norris is not by any means the first politician to ask for clemency for a rapist but he is certainly the first to have to put ambitions to become President of Ireland aside because he did so.

A person’s ability to recognise the redemptive potential of clemency is an entirely admirable and human instinct but whether it should be applied to a man convicted of raping a 15 year-old boy is entirely subjective. Given this society’s brutal coming of age over the last two decades, as we tried to understand the great extent of the violent and evil paedophilia active in our midst, that subjectivity is probably less flexible than it might be. It is certainly less flexible than it might be in the case of someone who had hoped to be elected to the highest office in the land.

Senator Norris’ candidacy for the presidency, for all his very admirable qualities, energies and real courage, was over the moment his intervention on behalf of Ezra Yitzhak Nawi, with whom he had a relationship for almost 30 years, became known. That relationship continued for four years after Ezra Yitzhak Nawi was convicted of the statutory rape of a 15 year-old Palestinian.

In that context yesterday’s announcement by Senator Norris, that he was withdrawing from the race, had an unfortunate air of inevitability about it. Even had he persisted his ambitions were based on the far-from-certain prospect of securing a nomination, especially as some of the Oireachtas members who had promised support wavered after the Nawi letter was made public.

Senator Norris’ campaign has highlighted another element in our political system so very badly in need of reform. Even though he topped nearly all opinion polls he was by no means certain he would secure a nomination even to stand. It is wrong that this right to stand for this office, or any other in the country, is so utterly in the gift of political parties. This must be the last election that this arrangement prevails and even though the political parties will fight to hold on to this self-serving veto it must change.

If Senator Norris has grounds for complaint it is that he is not being treated the same as other politicians. We know of at least four, and there may be more, who made interventions on behalf of men who raped children. Bobby Molloy, Kathleen Lynch — a junior minister in Enda Kenny’s Government — Tony Killeen and Pat Breen all did so but only Mr Molloy had to resign.

It is not necessary to be overly sceptical to recognise that the real winners in this sorry affair are the very parties represented by Lynch, Killeen and Breen.

An independent voice of real weight, ability, achievement and courage has not even made it on to the ballot paper. A real threat to the comfortable hierarchy of Irish politics has been unavoidably removed from the Presidential race because he intervened in the most misguided way — as he now acknowledges — on behalf of someone who behaved appallingly, but someone he once loved.

It is hard not to think we are all the poorer for it, our democracy certainly is.

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