Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

Norris must quit race for the Aras ... and here's why

David Norris should withdraw from the presidential contest in the light of his refusal to be transparent about the letters. He should also do it on account of the views he holds on the delicate legal issue of sexual relations between an adult and a minor. Norris's view is that the principle of consent should apply.

His arguments on the letters do not stand up, either in Irish law or in Israeli law. He has already released a very long letter. Are we to surmise that it was the least damaging and that this is the reason for releasing no more?

The Ezra Nawi event is over. The issues now are what he stands for in his continued candidacy. They have to centre on the fact that he misrepresented himself to the Israeli authorities as acting as a public representative seeking clemency. He concealed that he was seeking the clemency, not as public representative might, but on behalf of his lover and partner. He has already, and repeatedly, changed his story on the letters. Do other letters contain even more contentious views on underage sex?

His views on sexual relations between an adult and a minor are that they should be governed by consent and not by legal constraint. Today in Ireland it is the law that any adult having sexual relations with a minor commits an offence.

Norris originally used the context of ancient Greece and the well-worn arguments that were debated by Socrates and others in philosophical symposiums. Modern Ireland has been taught an entirely different view through the courts, industrial school abuse, clerical abuse and the harbouring of paedophiles.

It so happens that these two episodes, the letters and his views on sexual relations with a minor, have been conflated by the fact that his former partner, Nawi, committed a crime in Israel (viewed also as crime in Ireland) that involved sodomy with a minor. Initially Norris claimed he was not with Nawi at the time. But he was with him and continued to stand by him after the conviction.

The treatment of Norris by the media has been pilloried by some as unfair and unjust. The protracted and long-running debate would have gone nowhere had it not been for the ignorance and stupidity of a considerable number of public representatives.

There were not quite enough Dail and Senate representatives to nominate him, but more than enough to perpetuate Norris's extraordinary capacity for self-humiliation. Some of those Oireachtas members who serve on local authorities, including another presidential candidate, engaged in parallel ignorance and stupidity -- possibly combined with presidential political strategy -- to affect his nomination.

They did this in agreement with other council representatives, all acting on a blatantly absurd argument. This was that the electorate should be given the job of judging Norris's suitability to be the next president of Ireland.

This wrongly by-passed the provisions of the Constitution for the nomination of presidential candidates.

The ponderous set of arguments used by deputies, senators and councillors around the country was then used to pillory the methods the State has for nominating presidential candidates and led to a widening of the debate along the lines of making reforms in the future and finding 'a better way' to nominate candidates.

In the abstract this may or may not be worth considering. My own view is that some consideration may be worthwhile, but it is a finely balanced question.What was incontrovertible was the fact that we had to do it the old way.

This required the members of local authorities to use their judgment about whom they should nominate or not nominate. Nothing in the Constitution supports what they did, which was to hand over the problem to the people.

Local authorities, as I have learnt to my cost on a number of occasions, are filled with elected representatives who do not use their judgment but rely on officials to do it for them. They have accepted the widespread political culture in this country that turns them into messenger boys and girls, running between their supporters and council officials, who hold all the power, trying to resolve questions.

This is not universal; a majority of councils, in respect of the presidential nomination procedure, did use their judgment, as far as we can tell, and chose acceptable candidates such as Dana, Sean and Mary.

Others were guilty of containing significant numbers who abstained and others who simply abrogated their duty of judgment and replaced it by a decision to let the electorate decide on candidates, contrary to what the Constitution requires of them. Having done this they then joined the pack of those seeking a reform of a system that they felt was faulty, not realising that it was not the system but themselves who were faulty.

This left us with the problems that had been there from the start with David Norris, the letters, and his unacceptable views on the law about sexual relations with minors.

He is largely, though not completely, at odds with other candidates on these fundamental issues of transparency. And in the weeks ahead, as my colleague Alison O'Connor stressed in her piece on Saturday, where she emphasised that judgment is the key issue facing us, the real campaign will proceed precisely on that issue of judgment.

It should not do so with Norris as part of it. He has not come clean on the letters. From the bottom of his heart he has expressed his apologies to all of those he has "hurt". Yet he does not know the identity of a key victim of his lover's behaviour, the underage boy who was sodomised by Nawi, and by his own statement has clearly not apologised to him in any form whatever.

At the same time he expressed concern last week on the possible attitude of this person, unknown to him, over his identity being revealed. "Is it fair that this wound should be ripped up again?" Well, the answer to that question is to ask the person concerned, and possibly, at the same time, expressing regret on his former lover's and his own behalf.

The Constitution contains workable provisions about the nomination of candidates for the presidency that require elected representatives to take the responsibilities that go with the political job they so avidly seek.

A relatively small number -- though enough to put Norris into the race -- saw it quite differently. They wanted election, with the status and the money that go with it. But they hated the idea of actually confronting the awesome decision of blocking a singularly inappropriate candidate from putting himself before us. They should be ashamed of themselves and he should withdraw.