Wednesday 17 January 2018

Norris kept legislators in dark over Nawi rape

Dearbhail McDonald and Luke Byrne

SENATOR David Norris failed to disclose his former lover's conviction for statutory rape when seeking support for him from Oireachtas colleagues, the Irish Independent has learned.

The former presidential hopeful brought a motion to an Oireachtas committee in 2009 in support of human rights activist Ezra Yizhak Nawi, who was facing trial for assaulting Israeli police.

Presidential election candidate Michael D Higgins seconded the motion at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and championed Nawi's cause.

As a result of the motion, a letter was written to the Minister for Justice and the Israeli Ambassador, expressing concern over Nawi's arrest.

But it has now emerged that Mr Norris did not tell his committee colleagues, whose support he was seeking for the motion, about Nawi's prior conviction for sexually abusing a 15-year-old boy.

Nawi, an openly gay political campaigner, was convicted of the statutory rape of the teenager in 1992. After a series of appeals, he received a six-month jail sentence in 1997.

Last night Mr Higgins and other committee members confirmed that they had not been informed of the rape conviction by Mr Norris.

However, Mr Higgins said the senator had still been right to pursue the motion. He insisted that the motion dealt only with the issue at hand at the time, namely whether Nawi's arrest and detention for assaulting the soldiers was lawful.

Labour's candidate for the Presidency said: "The only consideration was whether someone (Nawi) who was working as a peace activist was apprehended and detained properly."

Mr Higgins declined to say whether he would support the same motion if it were being tabled today.

"I had no knowledge of Mr Nawi's earlier record and I don't think it is helpful to speculate now on whether knowledge of his record would have affected my decision," he said.

"In any event, I believe that Mr Norris addressed the issue in what was a very graceful, final statement this week."

Last night, members of the joint committee who backed the 2009 Nawi motion differed on whether disclosure of his criminal record at that time would have affected their support for the Norris-led motion.

Former Fianna Fail senator Ann Ormonde said that if she had known about the previous conviction she would have given "serious consideration" on any vote in support of Nawi.


But ex-Fianna Fail TD Sean Ardagh agreed with Mr Higgins that Nawi's record was separate to the motion tabled by his former lover.

"It wasn't relevant to the motion, which was a human-rights issue," said Mr Ardagh.

Fine Gael TD Billy Timmins said he did not recall being informed about the previous conviction.

Fianna Fail TD Darragh O'Brien said that he was also unaware of the statutory rape conviction.

"It's the kind of thing that you'd remember and certainly I wasn't aware of it at the time of the motion," he said.

Mr O'Brien declined to say if he would have changed his vote on the motion had he known of the rape conviction, but added that it should have been disclosed at the time.

His former colleague Frank Fahey, who has now retired from politics, refused to comment on whether he would support the motion if it was being tabled again today.

Irish Independent

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