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Norris's naivety begs serious questions about his judgment

HE IS a bright man, familiar with the ways of the media, so there is no way Senator David Norris could have believed he would get through a presidential election campaign without his infamous 'Magill' interview becoming a hot topic.

It is a little naive of him to wonder why, after 10 years, this interview containing quotes from him on the nature of paedophilia and sexuality is yet again coming to light. The surprise is that it didn't surface earlier. To borrow a phrase most closely associated with presidential elections in Ireland -- on mature reflection David must have realised that the almost greater surprise is that it didn't get him into even bigger trouble at the time.

A quick Google search at any time in the decade would have unearthed details of the interview and that particular quote concerning older men, younger men and boys. The search engine would also have thrown up a few results to remind you that the senator was one of the very few people to defend poet Cathal O Searcaigh over the nature of his relationships with teenagers in Nepal.

Norris is so likable, and has done so much for so many good causes that one hesitates to cast aspersions on his character. But in the case of the 'Magill' interview with Helen Lucy Burke, it would have to be wondered why he didn't begin, or even threaten, legal action at the time. Her tape of the interview is now missing but would obviously still have been in existence then.

In the interview he is quoted as saying: "In terms of classic paedophilia, as practised by the Greeks for example, where it is an older man introducing a younger man or boy to adult life, I think there can be something to be said for it. And in terms of the North African experience this is endemic.

"Now again, this is not something that appeals to me, although when I was younger it would most certainly have appealed to me in the sense that I would have greatly relished the prospect of an older, attractive, mature man taking me under his wing, lovingly introducing me to sexual realities, and treating me with affection and teaching me about life."

In his responses this week, David Norris has insisted he was involved in an academic discussion concerning ancient Greece, and that he was misquoted in relation to the line concerning sexual education by an older man of a young boy. At present the truth of that lies between him and Helen Lucy Burke.

Much of the public debate on the O Searcaigh documentary related to the relationship between those who give aid and those who receive it, and how that relationship can be utterly imbalanced through dire poverty and gratitude.

On the one hand you can think of Norris as brave for raising the issue in the Seanad at a time when there was indeed a "trial by media" ongoing. On the other, anyone who saw the documentary must have questioned what was going on.

You see, if you grew up in a secure and loving background and knew from early on you were homosexual, and had no problem with that, you might indeed welcome the entreaties and experience of an older man, but then you might also regret it later. Because we all know how we thought we knew everything when we were teenagers. That's why there is parental protection, and the law.

Of course if you're a teenage boy from a troubled and/or impoverished background you are even more vulnerable to mistaking sex for affection and perhaps even welcoming the attention.

David Norris insists vehemently that his quotes were taken out of context, in this sentence in the 'Magill' article concerning men and boys. It is ridiculous to suggest that we shouldn't be able to talk about paedophilia, no more so than rape. In fact it is the only way to educate people about it. But anyone giving any quarter, or to display any ambiguity at all, gives comfort to those who abuse and justify their behaviour with all kinds of ridiculous arguments about how it is good for the child.

David Norris says this controversy is an attempt to sabotage his campaign. He is quite correct about some of the stuff that is posted on the web about him which is a crude and disgusting attempt to marry the issue of homosexuality and child abuse. Indeed, some of it is simply gross and ridiculous discrimination against gay people and nothing more.

I believe him when he says he abhors "with every fibre of my being the idea of interference with children, sexual abuse, physical abuse and emotional abuse". But between the 'Magill' interview and O Searcaigh he does need to put a little bit more thought into how he communicates this, be it academically or otherwise.

It's a great pity that it is a subject such as this which has damaged the independent senator. However, the overall controversy does get to the heart of the central reservation many would have about a Norris presidency: his judgment. He won't be our next president.

Irish Independent