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Norris letters won't just go away

Be careful what you wish for. David Norris may have made it into the presidential race by the skin of his teeth, but already a new controversy is threatening to trip him up before he's even got off the starting blocks.

The senator's refusal to release those infamous clemency letters has completely dominated his first 24 hours on the stump -- and if he doesn't put this issue to bed soon, he may start to wonder if his decision to quit the contest last month was the right one after all.

Norris's dilemma is simple. We already know that back in 1997 he wrote to the judges of the Israeli supreme court, seeking mercy for his ex-lover Ezra Nawi who was convicted of the statutory rape of a 15-year-old boy.

Now it has emerged that he also penned half a dozen other letters on the same subject, sent to some of the most powerful politicians in Ireland and Israel.

Worryingly for Norris supporters, his reasons for not making those documents public have shifted even since the weekend.

At first he breezily claimed that nobody needed to bother their heads about them as they were just shorter versions of the letter he had already released.

Now he claims that he would love to clear the whole thing up, but has been advised by his solicitors that he cannot do so for legal reasons.

Quite frankly, this isn't fooling anyone. A host of criminal law experts have lined up to declare that the only way Norris could be exposed to defamation would be if he wrote something that was actually untrue.

Of course, he is entitled to privacy in his correspondence if he absolutely insists on it -- but given everything that's happened over the past few weeks, he can hardly be surprised if many people assume the worst.

Norris clearly believed that if he just stonewalled over this issue, everybody would get bored and agree to drop it.

His first day on the campaign trail has proved just how wrong he was. He had three high-profile media outings, on the Pat Kenny show, the News At One debate and a Prime Time interview -- and every single one was ruined by his unconvincing bluster over why he will not let us read those letters.

By the end, Norris was reduced to pleading with his interrogators to ask him something else. Not unreasonably, they responded that they would do just that as soon as he answered their question properly.


If this is repeated with Ryan Tubridy in tomorrow night's Late Late Show debate, it will mean his campaign has got off to the worst possible start -- and with four weeks to polling day, there is not much time left to recover.

So why is Norris being so pig-headed? What could be in those letters that makes him look even worse than he does now?

We can only guess at the moment, but the most plausible theory is that the documents confirm Norris's shocking lack of sympathy for the 15-year-old victim.

In the letter we already know about, he actually claimed that his ex-partner had been "lured into a carefully prepared trap".

If you make that kind of charge, you had better have the evidence to back it up -- and as the senator has admitted himself, his feelings for Ezra meant that emotion clouded his better judgment.

Allowing this to drag on is just another example of the lousy decision-making that has dogged his presidential bid all along.

David Norris says he is absolutely convinced that he will be the next president of Ireland. All we can say for certain at this stage is that if he does make it to Aras an Uachtarain, he'll have done it the hard way.