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Court refuses access to papers ‘showing David Norris had ambivalent attitude to underage sex’


Senator David Norris

Senator David Norris

Senator David Norris

THE High Court has refused to grant food critic Helen Lucy Burke disclosure of documents she claimed would show Senator David Norris had an ambivalent attitude towards underage sex.

Sen Norris, who came fifth out of seven candidates in the 2011 Presidential election, is suing Ms Burke and RTE Commercial Enterprises for libel over views she aired on a Liveline programme some months before the election.  

The broadcast, on May 30, 2011, related to a conversation between Norris and Burke over a meal in January 2002 for the purposes of an article she later wrote for Magill magazine.

Sen Norris is also suing over a subsequent Liveline programme, six days before the election, which discussed an eight-minute recording of that 2002 conversation which was also broadcast.

Sen Norris claims his reputation has been damaged by the two broadcasts and that the words used in them meant, among other things, that he held evil beliefs and was unfit to be President or to hold public office.

He says views were falsely attributed to him in the May 2011 broadcast which he never held or expressed. The quoted material was false and a deliberate distortion of what he actually said in his 2002 interview with Ms Burke, he says.

The second broadcast was a deliberate attempt to sabotage his candidacy in the election, he says.

Ms Burke says, in her defence, that her opinions of Sen Norris were based on allegations of fact specified in the programmes and they related to a matter of public interest.

She also says, among other defences, that the words were published in good faith, were honestly held and that it was reasonable and fair to publish them.

She denies Sen Norris was defamed, says he never challenged the Magill article she wrote based on that interview and that she accurately reported both him and the tenor of that 2002 conversation.

In advance of the trial of the defamation action, Ms Burke brought a High Court discovery application against Sen Norris seeking documentation she said she needs in order for her to show his claim is unsustainable.

She says it relates to representations he (Norris) made in 1997 to the Israeli courts, on Seanad Eireann notepaper, urging clemency for the senator's former partner, Ezra Yizhak Nawi, who had been convicted 1992 for statutory rape of a 15-year-old boy.

She also wants any material he has relating to his support for poet Cathal O'Searcaigh who had been subject of a TV documentary, called "Fairytale of Kathmandu" which detailed Mr O'Searcaigh's relationship with Nepalese teenage boys.   

Sen Norris opposed her application with his lawyer claiming it was a disgraceful fishing expedition for information.

Today, High Court President Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns refused to grant the discovery sought.  

He said the material relating to the Nawi Israeli case has already been made public and he failed to see how it can be contended that discovery of it was necessary for the purpose of disposing of the libel action fairly.

He was of the same view with regard to the O'Searcaigh material.  Sen Norris, according to Ms Burke's own case, did no more than call for the RTE programme to be investigated by a cross-party Oireachtas committee, he said.

Insofar as Ms Burke seeks copies of correspondence between Sen Norris and the media over this matter, "the same must be assumed to be in the public domain already", he said.

It was difficult to see any shortfall of information which would necessitate discovery given that it could be explored during cross examination of Sen Norris when the case comes to trial, he said.

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