Whether or not it was a ‘stitch up’ is irrelevant

AS a gay candidate, it always appeared as though David Norris would face obstacles to his ambitions to become president.

But as the campaign progressed, his popularity grew and an apparent attempt to smear his name in the early summer with the publication of an old interview only served to rally supporters around him.

The people appeared to be ready to elect not only Ireland’s but Europe’s first ever gay president.

But it now looks as if that important milestone will not be reached as Mr Norris’s ambitions have been derailed and his campaign is all but over.

Whether or not it was a “stitch up” as he suggested is irrelevant now.

The controversy over the conviction of his ex-partner, Ezra Yizhak Nawi, for having sex with a 15-year-old, and Mr Norris’s attempt to have his sentence reduced, always looked like a controversy from which it would be impossible to recover.

Throughout yesterday there was speculation that Mr Norris would hold a press conference today in a last-minute plea for support.

But as his key supporters fell one by one last night, it looked like it was all over.

The question they were faced with was whether it was right for an elected parliamentarian to ask a court not to jail a man convicted of statutory rape, and what this says about a person’s fitness for the office of president.

In the letter sent in 1997, he asked that Mr Yizhak not be sent to jail but given a non-custodial sentence for a number of reasons, including that imprisonment would make him suicidal, and he was willing to make a “financial compensation available to the young man involved”.

This was a 15-year-old Palestinian boy. Mr Yizhak was an Israeli peace activist who campaigned for the rights of Palestinians, particularly Arab farmers in and around Hebron.

Mr Norris said a mitigating factor should be that Mr Yizhak had pleaded guilty to the charge. He claimed that this was done “unwisely”, even though he accepted it would have saved the victim the traumatic necessity to give evidence.

He also said the issue of consent might be a mitigating factor and quoted a case which said that “where the victim not only consents but could be considered the instigator or, at least, a willing participant, a sentence towards the lower end of the range will be appropriate”.

The issue of consent does not arise with minors.

Senator John Crown, who is continuing to support Mr Norris, said he received assurances from him that he “has never been a supporter, apologist or coverer-up of any form of relations with underage children”.

He also said there was a perception that the letter “was being used unfairly against him”, suggesting that letters on behalf of criminals were once part of Irish political culture.

But two ministers have resigned in recent years for making such representations and someone seeking the office of president should be judged by the same standards.

The issues raised in this letter will have to be addressed by Mr Norris as he tries to salvage his presidential bid today.

Five of the 14 TDs and Senators who had pledged their support announced over the weekend they would continue to do so.

But in the end, despite Mr Norris’s popularity and his previous work to advance the rights of minorities, the controversy left some TDs and Senators with little choice but to withdraw their support.

The Norris camp may have already seen the writing on the wall over the weekend and felt it was better to battle on rather than bow out amid controversy.

They may have felt that, if left to the mercy of the Oireachtas, they could later blame the process and not this controversy, denied him the chance to stand and denied the people the opportunity to decide.

His decision to go ahead with his bid might have been a political misjudgement too far.

There are those who say that his success or otherwise would have answered the questions about whether Ireland was ready for a gay president.

But if Mr Norris’s bid fails, it has to be seen in the context of his poor judgment in making a mistake that has led to the end of political careers in the past, and not as part of some homophobic mindset.

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