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Thursday 8 December 2016

Comeback king Norris now faces new letters row

Fiach Kelly and Michael Brennan

Published 28/09/2011 | 06:33

SENATOR David Norris has finally made it into the presidential election, but his spectacular comeback was overshadowed by fresh demands to publish controversial letters he wrote for his former lover.

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With less than 24 hours to go until close of nominations, Mr Norris got the backing of the required four councils he needed to put him on the ballot paper.

It means there will be seven candidates for the presidential election on October 27, after Dana Rosemary Scallon went one better and was nominated by five councils.

Mr Norris was supported by Dublin City Council after Labour's Michael D Higgins made it clear to his party's 19 councillors in the capital that they should not block the Trinity senator.

Speaking after the council meeting in City Hall, Mr Norris said: "If I can make this extraordinary comeback, then this wonderful country can make an equally extraordinary comeback and I hope to there be at the head of it."

However, a number of councillors at last night's meeting called on Mr Norris to release the extra seven letters he wrote seeking clemency for his former lover Ezra Nawi, who was convicted of the statutory rape of a 15-year-old Palestinian boy, and were highly critical of his campaign and views on sex with minors.

But Mr Norris sped away from the meeting and refused to answer questions on the controversy, which is threatening to overshadow his campaign, only saying: "This is a night when we celebrate democracy."

After the meeting, where the motion was passed by 30 votes to six, with 11 abstentions, he also compared himself to the 'Great Liberator' Daniel O'Connell.

However, without directly addressing the issue of the letters, Mr Norris said: "To anybody who has been hurt or troubled by anything that I may have said inadvertently, let me just say this -- I apologise for any hurt from the bottom of (my) heart."

The decision in Dublin came after Waterford City Council earlier backed him, while Cork County Council rejected him.

But despite the big vote in his favour in the capital, there was strong criticism of his views on underage sex.

Independent councillor Damian O'Farrell said he was "not prepared to turn a blind eye to matters of child sexual abuse".

"There was a 15-year-old-victim involved and Senator Norris has many questions to answer," Mr O'Farrell said.

Fianna Fail's Paul McAuliffe asked Mr Norris to publish the letters and make a clear statement on his views on the age of consent, while Brid Smith of the People before Profit Alliance said he was subjected to a "smear campaign".

Fine Gael's Bill Tormey said Mr Norris "has actually smeared himself because he doesn't believe in an age of consent". Labour councillors, while voting for Mr Norris, criticised his campaign.

Mr Norris now faces a major challenge to raise funds and recruit volunteers with just four weeks to go to polling day.

His website, which was previously used to recruit volunteers and donations, is still offline.

And there have been no signs yet of the return of any of the senior campaign staff who quit last month when it emerged that he sent the clemency letters.

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He released one letter in August, but is still holding a further seven he wrote to some of Israel and Ireland's most powerful people.

His campaign manager, Liam McCabe, who is the former chairman of the Irish Mountain Rescue Association, is still on board.

Mr Norris did not answer questions about his fundraising efforts either, but his campaign previously estimated it would need ¿400,000 to compete in the race for the Aras.

But the fundraising efforts came to a halt when Mr Norris withdrew in August.

And it is not yet clear if he will be able to re-launch the 16 regional teams he had set up to support his campaign and attract back the 300 volunteers who had joined them.

The campaign will officially begin with the closure of nominations at noon, and the first radio debate between all the candidates is expected to take place an hour later on RTE's News at One programme.

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