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Doubt cast on Norris's legal claim over letters

LEGAL experts last night cast doubt on Senator David Norris's reasons for not releasing the letters he wrote seeking clemency for his former lover.

Mr Norris has cited defamation, privacy and legal privilege, or confidentiality, as the legal reasons why he cannot publish the 1997 letters.

The letters were sent to some of the most powerful politicians in Ireland and Israel, on behalf of Ezra Nawi, who was convicted of the statutory rape of a 15-year-old Palestinian boy. Mr Norris also said he would examine the possibility of reading the correspondence into the Seanad record.

Anything said in the Dail or Seanad is protected under parliamentary privilege, and it is believed he could read all the controversial letters.

It came as Taoiseach Enda Kenny, without specifically mentioning Mr Norris, said all candidates in the election must be upfront with the electorate.

Mr Norris also said the fact that the case was heard in camera was an obstacle to publishing the seven letters. The Trinity senator has already published one letter he sent to Israeli authorities.

"I have been legally advised that I could prejudice the situation if I revealed information because this was held in camera," he said. "This was legal advice, I abide by it."

The Norris camp last night said while there were no confidentiality issues with letters he wrote to public figures like Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and aides to former president Mary Robinson, it could expose him to defamation proceedings.

But several criminal law experts in Ireland last night poured cold water on these claims. "There is only a risk of defamation if he said something untrue about the victim or other personnel involved in the prosecution," said one senior counsel.

"Did Mr Norris go into more detail about the history of the relationship or background of the victim than was warranted by the facts?

"If you write an open letter, you cannot subsequently claim privilege. Just because he may have defamed an individual does not necessarily mean it attracts confidentiality."

However, the victim's privacy could be an issue.

Mr Nawi could pave the way for the publication of letters between Mr Norris and Mr Nawi's lawyers, which were submitted as a part of an appeal. Mr Norris cannot publish letters he wrote to the defence team but can do so if Mr Nawi waives his confidentiality.


Meanwhile, Mr Kenny said yesterday the electorate wanted to know as much as possible about the candidates before casting their votes.

"This is a case where the people are going to have a say about who they want to represent them in Aras an Uachtarain," Mr Kenny said. "From that point of view, I think all the candidates have to be upfront with the electorate and the people because they want to know and they have a right to know if they are going to make a decision to cast their votes."

Another Independent candidate, Dana Rosemary Scallon, didn't mention Mr Norris specifically either but said all candidates would "have to deal with issues, absolutely. That's what the campaign is about," she said. "Stand before the people and answer as honestly as we possibly can."

Irish Independent