Sunday 21 January 2018

David Norris: The referendum will pass - but I won't be marrying

FIGHT: David Norris was left shattered by presidential election but tells Joyce Fegan that he's ready to face another big battle

David Norris
David Norris
David Norris

Senator David Norris says that the agony of the 2011 presidential election campaign both triggered his cancer and left him utterly shattered but now, four years later, he has a new liver and is planning his next and final term in the Seanad.

Norris has previously referred to how the media frenzy around his presidential election bid led to a very stressful time in his life and how his cancer diagnosis came directly afterwards.

"I went through agonies because of the things that were said about me and they attacked people close to me. The worst of all is that you keep being afraid that your friends, your family, anybody who is near you will be subjected to this kind of treatment. It's an awful, awful, awful feeling and I believe that that triggered it (the cancer)," he says.

While he says he had always enjoyed a good relationship with the media, during the election things "soured very remarkably".

One of the biggest controversies related to a letter he had written to an Israeli court in 1990s, apparently looking for clemency for his former partner Ezra Yitzhak Nawi, who had been convicted of statutory rape but was awaiting sentencing.

"I didn't expect the sustained, ceaseless, unremitting telling of lies. I mean they were black and white lies. I gave up a pension I had contributed to because I thought there were people in the State who needed it much more than I did.

"And it turned up in the papers that I was a pension cheat, a social welfare fraud. I was an alcoholic, I was a cocaine addict, I had abused my position in the Senate to get passports for lovers - what lovers?

"And they put a photograph of myself and a photograph of a friend (in the paper) and suggested that I was his lover and that I had got a passport for him. It was madness," he explains.


When the initial polls showed he was the clear front-runner to become Ireland's first citizen -Norris was 28pc ahead of the candidate in second place - he believes he then became "a target to be taken down".

Some of the attacks were organised and some were not, he believes.

"I kept a firm enough face in public but I was utterly shattered, utterly shattered but the people didn't believe it," Senator Norris adds.

He would wake up with "tears streaming down" his face and this he believes must have led to some "chemical imbalance" in his body and therefore the cancer in his liver.

Last summer Norris (70) underwent a liver transplant and while he does not mind the public having an interest in his health he finds the media's take on it hypocritical.

"I can't bear this kind of sickly sentimentalising, 'Brave Senator Battles Cancer,' by a newspaper that has been blasting the hell out of me. I think it's so hypocritical. Why don't they say 'oh goodie he's got the big C'," the senator says.

As for an official update on his health now he says "it's up and down".

"The cancer is gone because they took the whole liver out, I asked them could I have it to make pate.

"There's a bit of discomfort still - there's a little problem with an artery but it's in an awkward position so they're afraid to operate and I'm going in next week to see if there's anything in other areas but I don't think there is," he adds.

The senator admits that he still thinks about the election campaign of 2011, but he is over it now and while he believes Ireland has a good President in Michael D Higgins, he says he would do things differently.

"I would have been different but I mightn't have lasted. I might have been impeached because I sure as hell would have taken the President's car and gone down and shown solidarity with people like that 74-year-old couple who were put out of their house because of a dispute between the landlord and the bank, after being in it for over 20 years."

And would he have signed in the Irish Water Bill? "No. I wouldn't. I'd have called the Council of State and sent it to the Supreme Court. There's nothing wrong with sending it to the Supreme Court.


"I said on the record in the Senate, I believed that I had found reasons to question whether or not it was constitutional. Michael D didn't, that was his choice," he says.

Norris states that he won't run again for President but he still has one more battle on his hands - the passing of the same-sex marriage referendum this May.

"I want that last battle to be over and to be fully equal and theoretically to have the opportunity to get married but I won't get married," he says.

"I want it for other people because that's what being a liberal is all about - wanting choice for other people, not necessarily for yourself."

In 2015 a lot more people are aware of homosexuality, be it in their workplace or in their families, compared to when he first began campaigning for equal rights in 1973, he says, arguing that this will help the 'Yes' side.

"Most people now know gay people. When I was young they didn't and they're now less likely to be afraid of them and they see them as good uncles and aunts and good brothers and sisters," the senator says.

As far as Christianity goes on the matter, "Jesus Christ never once opened his mouth about homosexuality, not once, so it obviously wasn't a priority for him," says Senator Norris.

His greatest fear now is that the 'No' side will raise sufficient fears in the population ahead of the referendum. Having said that, the senator believes that marriage equality will still end up being constitutionally recognised.

"I think it will squeak past. I think it will be narrow. I believe and I hope it will (pass) because I want to be equal," he says.

And after it what are his plans - if he has no intention to make a second bid of the Aras will he seek out another term in the Seanad?

"Oh yes, I'm looking forward to that but that will probably be my last. I'm father of the house and if I'm re-elected I'll be father of the house again and that means I take control of the proceedings on the first day and I make the speech on the day and I have things I want to say about reform of the Senate.

"I'd like to achieve reform of it to make it much more democratically responsive but I would like to see the university seats preserved in their uniqueness," he states.

At 70, and having never really felt stigmatised because of his sexuality, his advice to any gay person right now is to read a certain book - The Complete Guide to Gay Life for New Explorers' by Michael Ryan.

"It's everything you need to know about being gay, it's for young people and their families and it is so matter-of-fact, down to earth, un-hysterical, it's wonderful. I wish that had been around 50 or 60 years ago," he says.


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