Presidential candidate David Norris has urged voters not to judge him "on a couple of sensationalist newspaper headlines" after the publication today of an old interview in which he appeared to suggest he did not believe there should be an age of consent for sexual relations.
Speaking on RTE’s Morning Ireland, Norris said he abhorred “with every fibre of my being the abuse of children” but suggested that the issue of the age of consent was not as black and white as people suggested.
Where two people are having sexual relations and one is marginally below the legal age, he said the judiciary should have the power to examine what he called “the principle of consent” involved in the relationship.
Young people were experimenting sexually all the time, he said. “This is wrong..but sending them to juvenile institutions is questionable.”
Controversy over Norris’s views on a range of issues has been raging for almost a fortnight and this morning, he emailed a long message to supporters detailing his views on issues like pederasty and prostitution before appearing on RTE.
He admitted that he had been foolish to get involved in some of the controversies, but said the interviews had been carried out long before his announced his presidential campaign.
He denied that there were any question marks over his judgement. “There is a difference between being a campaigning senator and a president,” he said.
On the issue of pederasty, which he describes as “sexual relations between an older and a younger man in ancient Greece”, he said: “My experience as a young man in Dublin was that there were no social outlets for gay men. I was left in ignorance by society and didn’t consciously meet another gay male until I was in my 20s.”
Then he read Plato. “The greatest philosopher ever argued that physical love was the gateway to spiritual love, very movingly it concludes with the most beautiful man in Athens, Alcibiades admitting that he has offered himself sexually to Socrates in return for sharing in Socrates’s wisdom.
“I saw this enlightening approach and experience as a much more interesting and preferable introduction to sexuality than my own experience. That is my own personal opinion.”
Senator Norris said he abhorred child abuse “in all its forms, psychological sexual or emotional. I have always campaigned for children’s rights. I have also spoken out strongly in the Seanad on the recent Roscommon child abuse case and on all reports into child abuse. My record in this area speaks for itself.”
In his statement to supporters, Norris described incest as “morally and medically wrong. It is dangerous and illegal and justifiably so. “On abortion, he said “access to information and education is the true champion of reducing the instance of abortion,” although he gave no indication of his view on whether it should be available in Ireland.
Addressing the legalisation of drugs, he said that “the blunt instrument of criminalisation is not working because of the vast profits it generates for organised crime”.
Hard as it might be to accept, he said, “my view is that the welfare of the community, including the victims of drug abuse, may be better served by having access to quality controlled, legally prescribed drugs”.
In the past, Senator Norris has described Pope Benedict as a “Nazi”, and in his statement he said that he finds the Pope’s teachings on homosexuality “negative and ill-informed”.
However, he described himself as a “devout Christian” with the “greatest respect for the commitment and faith shown by many people the length and breadth of the country”.
Concluding his message, Senator Norris, who is seeking the support of local authorities and TDs for his candidacy, said: “Every candidate in every election has personal opinions, which they must set aside in order to fulfil their pubic duties and I intend to be no different and to reflect the broad opinions of a proud Irish nation.”
Speaking on Newstalk this morning, Norris refused to say whether he thought there was now an active campaign against him, but said the timing of the controversy was interesting.
"The timing comes just as I'm addressing councils looking for support for my nomination, so perhaps there's something in the timing," he said.
Norris will seek support from three county councils - in Wicklow, Carlow and Wexford - on Monday, and this morning two Fianna Fail councillors clashed over whether he should be given a place on the ballot paper.
"He's not a credible candidate," Bray councillor Pat Vance told RTE's Today With Pat Kenny. After possibly the best president in our history, "we need a special person to be president and I don't think David Norris is that person," he said. "He's not an appropriate individual."
Vance said he found Norris to be a "very amusing character", but said the fact that he did not have a partner "would be a consideration" in his views on the Senator's suitability to be president.
Wexford councillor Malcolm Byrne said that Norris shouldn't have talked about ancient Greek philosophy in newspaper interviews but said he was "credible candidate" who had the same right to be on the ballot paper as other potential independent candidates like Mary Davis and Sean Gallagher.
His colleagues would make their decision on the basis of what they hear from Norris on Monday rather than newspaper headlines, he said.