Bruce Arnold

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

Norris attempts to rewrite history in this less than frank book about his life

A good newspaper stands over what it publishes. It does so in the belief that its purpose, in bringing new matter to the attention of readers serves the public interest. This surely should have been the view of the editor of the 'Irish Times' and his staff in presenting to its readers large extracts from the autobiography of the recent but unsuccessful presidential candidate, David Norris. If ever a book needed some editorial comment, this one did.

Mr Norris is, after all, deservedly famous -- or infamous, depending on your point of view, though both apply -- and his recent run for president was full of the ambiguities one associates with his chequered life.

Mr Norris was the leading candidate for much of the race, and had more than double the support of the other declared candidates in January 2011. He withdrew in August 2011 but returned to the race the following month due to his continuing widespread popular appeal, as he saw it. In reality, it had diminished appreciably. Predictably enough, the adverse circumstances of his candidacy multiplied and, from then to polling day he was struggling against them.

Mr Norris is now attempting to rewrite history and his main target is the media. He characterises us as "an unelected, uncontrolled and unaccountable tyranny", forgetting we are subject to the law and pay dearly and often for errors.

He deals evasively with the first of the crisis points in his campaign, the emergence of his apparently previously expressed views on sexual relations between adults and minors. He is dismissive of Helen Lucy Burke, whose interview in which she questioned him about such sexual relations was published in 'Magill' magazine 10 years before the presidential campaign.

He omits to include in his autobiography, however, any mention of an interview at the start of his campaign in May 2010 when he repeated what he had told her. This was with Jason O'Toole. This was that he believed in a "principle of consent", rather than an age of consent, and then appeared to repeat the same controversial views that he had stated to Ms Burke. Effectively, this meant that he did not support the existing laws in the State on the age of consent.

His campaign team were in disarray when the new interview appeared in the 'Irish Daily Mail'. It was this that prompted the invitation to appear on Morning Ireland the following day, to which he agreed.

He claims in his new book he was "invited on to talk about my campaign". In fact, it was much more serious, the decision to appear taken despite his negative views about the RTE programme. He says in his book: "Morning Ireland had recently marked its anniversary, and everyone in Leinster House was tripping over themselves to congratulate it. I was a lone voice in refusing to do so."

But he went on very promptly after the published interview had appeared and had encouraged Aine Lawlor to deal with its issues, which she did. His response in the book is to say that she "swiftly gutted me" and to claim later that RTE had a hidden agenda to attack him. Among other things Ms Lawlor told him was he wasn't running for election in ancient Greece.

The second and more serious problem he faced involved the Arab-Israeli conflict, Hamas, the Gaza blockade, human rights and conflict resolution. Mr Norris the politician was at the heart of this, with the added complication of his long sexual and emotional relationship with Ezra Nawi, an active radical leftist Israeli rights activist. He was well known to Irish politicians and had been mentioned by Mr Norris when he told members of the Dail Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs about Nawi "being in jail at the moment. It is his birthday today. He will be in for a few days, but he is well. He has been in contact with me and he appreciates the support of this committee."

He could have told the committee a good deal more about Nawi and in so doing made plain to the Irish public his own views, important at the time of the Dail hearing, but much more important given his presidential aspirations. Nawi has had a number of convictions, including one in 1992 for committing consensual sodomy against a minor.

There followed evasion about letters sent to Nawi and to the authorities, seeking leniency over the sentence. The Norris campaign was in deep and escalating trouble and it never really recovered. None of this appears in his newly formed autobiography. Nor does he clear up the period of his relationship with Nawi. In a 'Sunday Independent' interview with John Drennan when he famously released the 'Clemency Letter', he claimed his relationship with Nawi was over by the time of the statutory rape conviction. This was not so, according to his interview with Jason O'Toole. They were together "for the best part of 30 years", yet another example of Norris apparently re-writing history -- though it does not appear in the book.

His extraordinary performance during the remainder of the campaign might have alerted us to the likelihood of a book of the life a year later. And so it turned out. A new David Norris emerges in 'David Norris: A Kick Against the Pricks'. He is blithe, fluent, less than frank but sufficient to gain vast publicity without any of the reservations, attacks and contradictions that blighted his run for the Park.