Defending David

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David Norris’ former senate colleague Eoghan Harris went on RTE R1’s News at One with Gavin Jennings to defend the embattled candidate.

Eoghan Harris: “Well I hope he doesn’t pull out of the race. I don’t like mobs, even when the mobs is in the right. And this time I think the kind of mob is, or the media mob is being a bit harsh on him. David Norris’s partner is not running for president, David Norris is.

And when you strip away all the controversy and all the comment, what is his crime? I mean his basic crime is that he pleaded for mercy for a friend, for a partner, for a former lover, and eh, now that might have been unwise or inappropriate or any kind of media judgmental word you want to use but, em, you know the Greeks always – the Greeks had another word. They invented a lot of words to describe things and one of the great words was empathy – to identify with another person. So  we have to ask ourselves, what would we do in that situation? And I think we would tell our lover, friend, son or whatever that he was in the wrong, but we would also plead for mercy. And that’s his crime.

The real problem for Norris at the moment is the context, because the child sex abuse controversy, because everything is context. You know, 20 years ago if you pleaded on Seanad notepaper or Dáil notepaper for somebody, or ten years ago, eh, there’d be no problem. That context has changed. The child sex abuse thing has changed, because we are now more sensitive about it. We have a higher standard of kind of behaviour on it.

But I want to say one thing: There’s one person, like, in terms of that standard of behaviour, like one person could not have run for president in the present context and climate, and that’s Patrick Pearse. You know he wrote a poem called ‘A mhic bhig na gcleas’ Lots of historians think he was, not a paedophile, a pederast – somebody who’s attracted to young adolescents.

And the lines go like this: ‘There’s a fragrance in your kisses that I’ve not yet found in the mouths of women. Lad of the grey eyes, that flush in thy cheek would be white with dread of me could you read my secrets.

Now Patrick Pearse certainly couldn’t have run for president in the present climate. Or maybe he could, I don’t know. Maybe the Irish people would be wise enough and broad-minded enough to know, as long as he didn’t act out his erotic poetic fantasies, as long as he understood it was wrong, that like, we all have fantasies. Male heterosexual fantasies wouldn’t bear the scrutiny of the light of day. And I just think it’s very very wrong – and I think the Irish people knew a lot that David Norris was gay. They knew he had said very unwise things and inappropriate things in the past, but they still seem to want him in the polls and I think that’s because they appreciate his intelligence, his wit, his gaiety, literally, that he added to the gaiety of the nation, and they wanted a president that was full of beans and smart and bright and intelligent.”

Gavin Jennings: “You were heavily involved in previous presidential election campaigns – election campaigns that turned out to be quite nasty – within the last 20 years. The fact that his campaign team didn’t know about this letter of clemency, and now some senior members of that campaign team have resigned en masse. It’s not good for David Norris, whatever about people’s opinion about the rights and wrongs of him having written the letter in the first place. The fact that his campaign team didn’t know is very damaging for him.”

Harris: “Well and I’m not arguing about the damaging part of it. Like, I mean, we all know, like, he’s in difficulty. Some of the campaign team – I wish the campaign team hadn’t done that. I notice his campaign director Liam McCabe, who’s a very tough – mentally tough, physically tough – guy, mountain climber, very intelligent man. He has stood by him.

I think the campaign team – some of them are gay and, like, they have, they are very sensitive. If you’re gay you’re actually under scrutiny and gays particularly are terrified of any imputation that they’re not strong on the child sex abuse thing. I think it was premature of them. I think, like, that David Norris could have a genuine case for not believing that a letter of mercy on behalf of a friend and partner didn’t count as a major event.”

Jennings: “If you were advising him now – and he hasn’t spoken publicly, with the exception of course of his comments to the Sunday Independent – what would you advise him to do now?”

Harris: “My understanding is that he’s going to hold a press conference. I’d have that on reasonably good authority.”

Jennings: “When, do you know?”

Harris: “I believe he’s going to hold it tomorrow. I can’t, wouldn’t go on oath on that. I believe that David Norris is basically a fighter. I know that David Norris is not a paedophile. I know that he hasn’t done any of the things that he might talk about in the abstract thousands of years ago.

I mean the Irish people have just, you know, sent the pope’s men packing mentally.  It’s a new people here. It’s a very kind of sensitive and intelligent people. And maybe at the end of the day they decided that his judgment is so suspect they can’t make him president. And let them decide. If he’s not allowed to run for president, it will leave a very bad cloud over us. We will not feel good about it.”

RTE R1 News at One (RTE.ie)

MEANWHILE:  Norris Acted Wrongly But Should Not Be Scapegoat (Fintan O’Toole, Irish Times)

(Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland)

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