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John Drennan: It's not Ancient Greece, but let him run and let the people decide

ONE of the most famous political slogans was the classic War of Independence one of 'put him in to get him out'. Yes, they used to jail politicians once and, after last week's treatment of David Norris, many will say it's a pity the practice was discontinued.

When it comes to the travails of Norris, a more modern variant of the slogan might be 'let him run and let the people have their say'.

Ireland as a country has a bad tradition of showing a sour face to difference. We, of course, dress in more modern clothes these days but little has changed when it comes to the national character. Last week we were told in hushed tones that a series of 'disturbing facts' had been raised about Norris. In so far as these 'disturbing facts' could be summarised, the senator has raised questions about the legalisation of drugs, prostitution and abortion.

He also apparently has expressed concerns about the consequences of legal intrusiveness when it comes to defining the age of consent. In a civilised society these are all issues that can be discussed.

In this country, however, even daring to raise such issues raised the flag for a political fatwa where the airwaves were swiftly poisoned by the sort of lurch-like councillors who glorified themselves with protestations of how they like "hom-oh-sex-uals'' so long as they don't open their beaks too much.

The political stenographer class who are vaguely terrified of Norris because he is "different" went on the offensive with dire warnings about the need for "a safe pair of hands in the Park".

Obviously our stenographers have not yet internalised fully how well the great centrist culture of electing "a safe pair of hands" has served the country to date.

Even previously safe havens turned sour as RTE, the national broadcaster, appeared to find it hilarious that a presidential candidate would be interested by Ancient Greece. And the political stenographers clapped their fins in unison at Aine Lawlor's snap of "you're not running in Ancient Greece now Mr Norris".

But the line, though clever, stank of the sort of all-too-common Tim Healy "and who shall be its (the Irish Parliamentary Party) mistress" style of wit that eschews serious argument in favour of facile wit and cheap applause.

Seeing as I've indulged in the practice often enough I won't be too critical but it is unfortunate to see the ethos of Wagons' Den slinking into RTE's current affairs programming.

Back in Leinster House, meanwhile, the sneaking regarders who always liked to court a bit of free publicity on the back of Norris's public popularity were sniffing the air.

Anxious questions about 'not wanting to be associated with a disaster' were being asked by the class of TD you wouldn't want to have behind your back if a war started.

The game, however, may not yet be over.

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At this stressful point Norris should recall that time in the Eighties when Haughey went over the heads of the political stenographers and Leinster House political insiders and appealed directly to the people. It was a policy that worked equally well for Bertie Ahern three decades later -- for when the first Mahon Tribunal revelations came out, Bertie waggled those defensive eyebrows in front of Bryan Dobson and a nation cooed in the manner of grandparents clucking over a new born.

Ultimately, only the people can now rescue Norris. Those hom-oh-sex-ual loving (but in a manly way, of course) councillors and TDs may theoretically be the gatekeepers to the Park. But should Norris continue to retain the support of a critical mass of 25 per cent or more of the voters, and not be allowed to run, the political establishment has a problem. In such circumstances any President who was elected courtesy of a gerrymandered electoral field would have a crooked mandate. If Norris continues to retain the support of the people a way will have to be found to let him run.

Afterwards, as they used to say it the old Westerns, it will be a case of "shoot 'em all and let God sort 'em out".

I will note in passing that Norris's views on America alone means I would only vote for him if Pat Cox was the alternative.

But I would vote for Skippy the bush kangaroo if that blowhard, cosseted, bloated, closet PD, egotistical Europhile is the best creature FG can put into the field.

On Monday our councillors can act in a generous and brave fashion or they can slink like slieveens into the ethical shrubbery, muttering about how they have the height of respect for hom-oh-sex-uals so long as they keep their traps shut about bad things such as the exchange of bodily fluids.

It would be nice if public discourse and freedom of speech in Ireland could reach the none-too-taxing standards set by Voltaire's France.

But if Norris is not allowed run Aine Lawlor will, in fairness, be right about how Norris isn't running in Ancient Greece.

That was a civilised mature democracy which would have viewed the sort of opportunist moral barbarians who went after Norris last week with incomprehension.

Sunday Independent