Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I was hoping to get a chance to vote for David Norris for the Irish presidency. He was doing so well, in terms of popular choice - I think it would have been a real turning point for Ireland to have him as a president. Mary Robinson was wonderful, I don't really know about Mary MacAleese, but I think he would have been a good choice, as an intellectual, emotionally aware, outspoken modern thinker.

The papers dragged up all sorts of statements he made previously about not agreeing with the age of consent, and there was this:

But like his literary hero, Norris is now bearing the brunt of the country's conservative forces. Two weeks ago, Helen Lucy Burke, a Dublin restaurant critic notorious for her waspish reviews, went on an Irish radio programme to remind the country what Norris had said in an interview with her nine years earlier. The Protestant gay rights campaigner had appeared in Magill magazine and spoken about the ancient Greek tradition among adult males of having sex with young boys. Although Norris strongly denied having endorsed adults engaging in sex with children, and has campaigned for victims of child abuse, the quotes proved explosive. Even his supporters feared that his campaign had been stopped in its tracks.
Those fears, however, appeared overly pessimistic: an opinion poll still gave Norris a 39% rating, 20 points higher than his closest rival.
The quotes were taken out of context and built up into something completely incendiary.

He seemed to sail over that one relatively undamaged, but then the stronger guns came out - it seems in 1992, Norris wrote a letter asking for clemency for an ex partner convicted of the statutory rape of a 15 year old boy.  
On Seanad Headed Notepaper, no less.

There is outrage. Norris supports child abuser. On headed notepaper! Rape is rape is rape, shriek the shrieky people.

From different things I read, there are these bits of information - Norris seemed to have felt that Nawi had been set up a bit. The age of consent in Israel is 16. Did he know? Was there a wee bit of entrapment involved? Another article I read mentioned a relationship. Does this mean Nawi is a sleazy and cynical exploiter of gay youth? Does it mean he had a genuine, if misguided romance? I don't know, in fairness. Norris questioned the validity of the impact statement made at the time. Nawi is seen in some circles as a hero, a mediator, a Jew who speaks out against the injustices he sees his government perpetuating. He's been targeted before.

Norris was already struggling, not with the public vote, but with the political system that makes it very difficult for independents to get into the presidential race. He and his campaigners have been accused of naivety. Maybe. I don't know. I wish it didn't have to matter.

Here are the things that I feel about this. I am wary of being too quick to support the act in question here - after all, I don't know the real details any more than the shriekers do. I do know this though - I had sex when I was 15 and it was emphatically not rape, despite the fact that it would legally have been termed statutory rape. Ok, it wasn't with an older person but had I made that choice to sleep with someone years my senior at the time, I wouldn't have appreciated my choice being rephrased by anyone else. I feel concretely certain about this, whatever the hypothetical person's motivations might have been. I also suspect gay sex to have its own cultural signature, that is perhaps not directly comparable to hetero sex, but hey, I suppose that's murky water to start wading into.

I'm not saying Nawi made a great decision, but I am open to the idea that it's possible that the the teenager in question was not damaged by it and I wish people were a little less hysterical about the whole idea.

I also would have loved to have Norris as our president. I think it would have said a lot for our modernity, for how far we've come. I think he would have been a gracious, humorous, wonderful spokesperson for our country.

But, well, we fucked him over instead. And who will replace him in the running instead?: Dana. Good old Dana. I suppose we're getting what we deserve.



Stephen said...

Very well said Jo - a really well written piece.

You've summed up my feelings on this exactly - we get what we deserve.

Jo said...

Thanks, Stephen. I was wary of this one, and then feeling guilty for not speaking up more, so I felt like it was time to state some support, if even just here. I feel really sorry for David Norris, the emotion at the end of his speech was palpable. HE must have been through a horrible time - and all for trying to participate in a democratic process. It sucks.

morgor said...

well politicians shouldn't really send letters to judges to try to interfere with court cases in my opinion.

For example :

I mean the jury should decide and the judge should judge, David Norris opinion shouldn't really matter. in fact if you're sleeping with someone then you really should have no bearing on someones sentence as you are going to be biased.

Jo said...

do see your point.

I suppose if you hold a position of respect, and your friend is being, as you see it, unfairly charged and is suicidal, you do what you can to give character witnesses.

So I can see why he felt he had to do something. But yeah, ok. It doesn't stop me wanting him to be president though.

morgor said...

to be honest, i think i'd still vote for him anyway. He's intelligent, modern and interesting.
ah well.

Jo said...

I'm gonna spoil me a vote.

Martin said...

Upfront, I like David Norris, his human rights record is excellent and that alone would have made him a great ambassador. Also, I have no doubt that all the stuff that's been dug up has been done so simply to smear and stop a gay man becoming president.

The intent behind it is shameful.

But, what has been dug up can not be disputed. I don't have a strong problem with politicians making calls for clemency in some cases, but Norris made a plea for leniency for a man convicted of the statutory rape of a minor.

In Ireland today, in the last few weeks we have made an historical statement of intent in terms of child protection, no grey areas, no compromises, no one standing in the way, no one staying silent to protect colleagues or institutions.

Norris must be held to the same standards we have set, and I'm actually disappointed that he didn't acknowledge this when he ended his campaign.

Jo said...

Well, I think he's a little ambiguous about the age of consent in the first place.

As am I. I think it's a difficult one - obviously it's a blanket clause to protect minors and secure convictions of predators, but also can harm young people and their relationships. To suggest that it's not possible to have consensual sex under the age of consent just isn't accurate. In my opinion and experience.

Martin said...

Regarding consent, there does have to be some soft policing and sanity when teens are just being teens, sex with peers is how people grow up.

Nawi was 40 though.

Jo said...

Yeah, I know, I can't argue that it was a good thing for Nawi to do. I do think it's possible that he is less of a criminal than he has been painted though, and I don't think it necessarily had to be a traumatic affair for the kid in question - and for me, Norris' support of him doesn't tar his ability to be a good president. I know it does for others.

Mwa said...

All this seems so much less serious looked at in terms of the more Gallic mores over here. Our potential future prime minister is gay and had a very similar case against him - he was cleared but he was still doing it with quite young men. I personally don't like linking private sexual behaviour with politics - unless it's grossly inappropriate.

Also, while I don't know the details of that particular case and maybe something bad was going on, I would have an issue with what Martin said in terms of "no grey areas" - surely in sex there are many grey areas.

Mwa said...

Oh, and hi good to be back. Will be catching up on your posts asap... x

Mwa said...

Hey. All caught up. You away somewhere? Or just living real life instead of being on the internet? I'm imagining you on an Irish beach. x

Jo said...

Hi Mwa, I'm here, just without anything of interest to say. Off to Achill with no internet for a couple weeks though...

I certainly stand in that grey area on sex, Mwa. I posted a comment on the facebook news site about having had sex at 15 and that it definitely wasn't rape - and someone posted a response that said, basically, how hard is this concept to understand - rape is rape is rape. How the fuck does he know about my life and who I was and what I did at 15? He doesn't. That's black and white, I know.

Martin said...

Mwa, my point wasn't referring to no grey areas around sex, but rather child protection, something that Ireland has finally started to take seriously. That's where there should be no grey areas, and that's what makes Norris' presidency attempts untenable for me.

Furthermore, if he had actually said that was the reason he wasn't running, that would have been a more presidential act than any he could perform in the handcuffed role in the first place.