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Wednesday 22 November 2017

Senator David Norris withdraws remarks but doesn't say sorry to Fine Gael's Regina Doherty

Fiach Kelly, Political Correspondent

UNDER fire Senator David Norris says he is happy to withdraw some remarks in which he accused Fine Gael TD Regina Doherty of "talking through her fanny".

But while he said he regretted "any offence" he caused, he did not explicitly apologise.

Mr Norris made a personal statement to the Seanad this morning in which he said he "accepted that my language was intemperate".

He also said he regretted if what he said caused offence, but predicted the referendum campaign on the abolition of the Seanad will be a dirty one.

But he denied his use of language was sexist, telling Labour's Ivana Bacik, saying:  "I will take you on about sexist language if you want."

"I'd just like to explain yesterday and put it in context and withdraw some of the words that gave offence," Mr Norris said, again calling a press release from Richard Bruton, Fine Gael's director of elections for the referendum and Ms Doherty, his deputy "mendacious".

"I have to say I was simply furious having just possessed a copy of this mendacious document in which those of us who over the last 30 years have campaigned for senate reform were smeared in the nastiest way.

"This is going to be a very, very dirty campaign at it comes from the top and I was incandescent with rage. I would like to say I accept my language was intemperate. Had I been called for an explanation at the time I would have given one.

Senator David Norris
Senator David Norris
Fine Gael TD Regina Doherty

"I don't intend to go into a lengthy linguistic explanation and try to defend what I said, which I could if it was an academic discussion. I regret any offence but I'd like to say this: The think I regret most is this is going to be uses in this dirty campaign as a diversion.

"It was stated on the radio by Minister Howlin that there was personal antagonism between myself and Deputy [Mary Mitchell] O Connor. That is completely untrue. I spoke to her last week and I had sympathised with her on the horrible attacks on the abortion bill and I put this on the record of this House.

"There is no disagreement, nothing but friendship."

It is unclear whether Mr Norris was mistakingly referring to Deputy Mitchell O'Connor rather than Deputy Regina Doherty.

Mr Norris also said he did not prepare his outburst but did it off "the top of my head".

"And I am very happy indeed to withdraw the thing."

He also said the Fine Gael press release - in which Ms Doherty said she was approached to run for the senate after failing to win a Dail seat - is valuable because it shows a "smoking gun that Enda Kenny was prepared to parachute people in who had failed in the Dail election".

"And that I think is a serious issue, not intemperate language from me," Mr Norris added.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin criticised Mr Norris's comments, saying that at no point should serious matters under debate be made personal.

"In advance of the election, both parties looked at the case for a bi-cameral system or a uni-cameral system in the Programme for Government and agreed that these matters should be put to the people," Mr Howlin said.

"I expect there will be a robust debate about that, but it shouldn't be one that degenerates into any personal animosity or personal commentary."

Ms Doherty, who was yesterday appointed Fine Gael's deputy director of elections for the Seanad abolition referendum, is to lodge a formal complaint against Mr Norris.

The National Women's Council of Ireland has backed her decision and called for a full investigation.

Director Orla O'Connor described Mr Norris's comments as "sexist, personalised and completely unacceptable".

Co-ordinator of the council's Women in Politics project Eoin Murray said the country's political culture needs a significant overhaul, creating a "women-friendly" Oireachtas to replace the current "old boys' club".

"Our Parliament should be a leading example for debate," Mr Murray added.

"Our politicians - women and men - do good work. Such incidents undermine this work and make politics a less attractive career for women."

Mr Norris made his remarks yesterday following an announcement from Fine Gael's director of elections, Jobs Minister Richard Bruton, that scrapping the upper house would save €20 million a year.

Mr Bruton, who will lead the campaign for the abolition of the Seanad in the autumn referendum, said it would reduce the number of politicians by 30pc and bring Ireland in line with other small progressive democracies like Sweden and Denmark.

"I was simply furious, having just possessed a copy of this mendacious document in which those of us, after 30 years of campaigning for Seanad reform were smeared in the nastiest way," Mr Norris said of the minister's announcement.

"This is going to be a very, very dirty campaign and it comes from the top, and I was incandescent with rage."

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