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Jonathan Fallon: The Norris smear is an ugly start to election campaign

The controversy surrounding David Norris this week was certainly the first shot in anger of the presidential election. Unfortunately, it was not the start many of us would have wished to see.

There are many criticisms one could make of David Norris, there are many valid political points.

There is a large section of the population with whom he has little or nothing in common.

His politics has been marked for years by an association with issues from Georgian Dublin, civil partnership, Blooms day and other matters which, while worthy, do not really affect the vast majority of people on the island.

At the same time he has rarely been a voice for many of the issues that do. All of that would be sensible argument to advance why someone might choose not to vote for David Norris.

But what happened this week was far more prejudiced and questionable. Particularly in a country were most of us express disdain for what was done to Oscar Wilde a century ago.

There is a haunting whiff of the 1990 presidential election about all of this.

Back then tapes of interviews were produced against the advice of academics and others. The tapes were said to expose a lie in the ‘public interest’ but the matter at the heart of the debate was of questionable value.

This week we discovered the back in 2002 David Norris similarly made some ill judged comments in an interview.

The lesson may be that, if you want to be a president someday, then perhaps you should not be as open and giving of your time. The argument has been made that those who are raising the issue felt ‘compelled’ to lay all the information before the public.

Now isn’t that interesting?

The presidency is a largely ceremonial role with no powers or influence over legislation. Yet for the last decade David Norris has been a senior legislator, a man in a position to directly comment upon and influence laws. The interview is now being pitched in a manner to suggest that Norris comments are somehow ambiguous or lenient on sex with minors.

If the people saying this truly believe that David Norris is of that opinion then surely they had a duty to raise this issue continually and forcefully while he sat as a Senator and legislator?

Would it not be more important to demand that any ambiguity be removed from someone in such an influential role than from someone running for president? The only conclusion that one can honestly come to is that, in fact, these voices do not actually believe what they are accusing Norris of.

They know he made an error in an interview, they know it would be quite possible to brand it as something different. They are seizing an opportunity for their own ends that is neither Christian, fair or in the true spirit of any republic.

It’s politics, but not as we want it.

Jonathan Fallon is a political consultant