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Tuesday 27 June 2017

Senator admits plea for mercy was wrong

'In trying to help a person I loved, I made a human error'

David Norris outside his house in Dublin yesterday where
he announced he was quitting the race. Photo: Collins
David Norris outside his house in Dublin yesterday where he announced he was quitting the race. Photo: Collins

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

SENATOR David Norris admitted last night that his decision to beg an Israeli court not to jail the "love of his life" for statutory rape had put an end to his dream of becoming President.

He ended his five-month campaign to become the country's first gay President, saying he had been wrong to seek clemency for his former partner Ezra Yizhak Nawi, who had been convicted of having sex with a 15-year-old boy in 1997.

His departure means the field is now wide open for another candidate to emerge before polling day on October 27. It also strengthens the chances of Fine Gael's Gay Mitchell and Labour's Michael D Higgins, both of whom had been trailing him in the opinion polls.

Mr Norris broke his silence yesterday to condemn Nawi's "disgraceful behaviour" and apologise to his supporters for forgetting to tell them about his letters seeking clemency.

"In one sense, he was the love of my life. And you don't stop loving someone, whatever their flaws and faults were," he said.

Mr Norris (67) announced the end of his campaign outside his Georgian home in North Great George's Street, Dublin, after admitting that he had given the impression of not showing enough compassion for Nawi's young victim.

"It is very sad that in trying to help a person I loved dearly I made a human error," he said.

Speaking from his residence in Jerusalem last night, Mr Nawi declined to comment on Senator Norris's resignation.

He said: "Thank you no, I am not prepared to (speak)" before hanging up.

Mr Norris did not blame members of his campaign team for quitting in protest at his failure to alert them to the existence of the letter.

He also said he was not angry with the three Independent TDs who withdrew their support -- and therefore doomed his bid to get the 20 Oireachtas signatures he needed to get into the race.

The technical group of Independent TDs is now searching for a new candidate. Independent Dublin North Central TD Finian McGrath said they had "four or five names" in mind.

"Attempts are being made to find a strong credible Independent candidate to carry the Independent banner," he said.

There was no comment yesterday from Mr Mitchell's camp but Mr Norris attracted praise from Labour candidate Michael D Higgins for the "grace" of his statement and for his long-standing record on human rights issues. Mr Higgins also said he hoped there would now be a concentration on the "core issues" and the "values" needed for the Presidency.

Supporters

Independent candidate Sean Gallagher, who has secured the backing of five councils to enter the race, said it had been a difficult day for Mr Norris.

"On a personal and a human level, I feel for him, his friends and supporters," he said.

It emerged yesterday that Mr Norris made no effort to seek fresh support from other members of the Oireachtas before he bowed out of the race. His campaign team, which had been rocked by resignations of key personnel, did not contact Sinn Fein, Fianna Fail or the Socialist Party in recent days.

Socialist Party TDs Joe Higgins and Clare Daly were both prepared to support his nomination -- but Mr Norris admitted yesterday that support was beginning to drain away in the wake of the Nawi letter controversy.

"There were so many lurid headlines, I think that would make it difficult for me to unite the people behind me," he told Today FM.

Mr Norris said he was going to continue on as a senator -- and said he would be 71 if the Seanad served its full term.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail's only comment on the Presidency yesterday was that its decision on whether or not to run a candidate would be made in "early September".

A Sinn Fein spokesman said the party was still considering all options, including the possibility of running its own candidate.

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