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Saturday 17 March 2018

Norris is forced into campaign reshuffle as team members fail to come back

Experts cast doubt on reason for refusing to release 'rape' letters

The Magnificent Seven had their first debate in the lion's den that is Sean O'Rourke's show yesterday, and all avoided banana skins

Fionnan Sheahan, Fiach Kelly and Dearbhail McDonald

Independent senator David Norris has had to replace several key members of his campaign staff after a number of the original team failed to come back on board.

Mr Norris had assembled a team of experienced advisers for his first campaign, including a former Progressive Democrats chairman, a former 'Late Late Show' producer and a well-known political academic.

But his original campaign collapsed acrimoniously amidst a raft of resignations when the existence of letters on behalf of his former lover -- convicted of the statutory rape of a 15-year-old boy -- emerged.

The senator has now brought in a number of professional political campaigners, with links to both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, for his resurrected campaign.

However, as the close of nominations yesterday left seven candidates in the race, Mr Norris's campaign continues to be overshadowed by the controversy over the letters seeking clemency on behalf of Ezra Nawi.

Legal experts last night cast doubt on the senator's reasons for not releasing the batch of letters.

Mr Norris has cited defamation, privacy and legal privilege, or confidentiality, as the legal reasons why he cannot publish the 1997 letters, which were sent to some of the most powerful politicians in Ireland and Israel.

Mr Norris also said he would examine the possibility of reading the correspondence into the Seanad record.

Anything said in the Seanad is protected under parliamentary privilege, and it is believed he could read them all.

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

After getting back into the race, Mr Norris has had to put his campaign team back together -- without a number of the team from the first campaign.

He has drafted in crisis-management PR man Paul Allen, a long-time Fianna Fail activist, and political consultant David McCarthy, formerly a worker with former MEP Kathy Sinnott and an ex-Fine Gael staffer.

Mr Norris has also retained a number of those who were involved at the highest levels of his first campaign, including campaign co-ordinator Liam McCabe, nominations co-ordinator Stephen Boyle and legal adviser Muireann Noonan.


Former PD Senator John Dardis was again involved in recent weeks in advising Mr Norris's campaign on the Oireachtas nomination procedure.

But the former PD parliamentary party chairman will not be playing any further role in the election.

"I was only peripherally involved," he said.

Political analyst Odran Flynn was an adviser on strategy in the first campaign, where he assisted the campaign manager.

Mr Flynn said he was not involved "at this point" in the campaign.

"I was asked for advice in recent weeks," he told the Irish Independent.

"I haven't decided whether I want to [be on the campaign team] or not," Mr Flynn added last night.

Mr Flynn appeared on RTE's 'Morning Ireland' yesterday, as a political analyst, where he predicted Mr Norris would be in the final shake-up.

"I think the final two is going to be a race between Michael D Higgins and David Norris," he said on the programme.

Mr Flynn said last night that his public commentary on the campaign was "independent".

However, his involvement in Mr Norris's campaign was not declared on the show.

Mr Norris has invited his old campaign team back to work on his presidential bid, despite failing to thank them for their previous work.

But a source said that a large number of those previously working for Mr Norris were not going to come back.

PR guru Cillian Fennell was involved in Mr Norris's first run as a "communications adviser".

But his spokesperson said yesterday that Mr Fennell said he was brought in by Mr Norris's campaign team to advise "on a few specific areas".

Irish Independent

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