Sunday 20 January 2019

Norris's campaign is damaged. So now what should he do?

Set aside the fact that I've acted as chauffeur to David Norris and found him to be the most entertaining passenger ever.

Set aside the fact that whenever I have needed to ask Senator Norris if he would give of his time to a charity by appearing at their event, he has never hesitated for a moment, always been available, always learned about the charity in advance.

He charmed the boots, not just off the organisers, but also photographers demanding that he climb trees, wear funny hats or contort himself in some weird way in order to help them get good shots.

Set all that aside and let's look at just how serious is the current controversy for his prospects in the Presidential election. And what it says about his management of his campaign.

What it says about the latter is that because David Norris has been returned to the Seanad many times, based on household-name status and the instinctive affection of Irish people for intellectual mavericks, he may have assumed the same would apply to getting into the Aras.

It does not. The contest for the Aras is a world away from the contest for a Seanad seat, which tends, with the odd exception, to be reasonably civilised while requiring an enormous amount of groundwork.

The contest for the Presidency, even though the winner must be assumed to be no longer political, (if they ever were) in recent years has been at least as vicious, if not more vicious, than the nastiest fight for a TD seat. Ask Adi Roche, who remembers her experience with muted horror.

If you're the nominee of a political party, of course, you have a machine behind you, and since the horrible experience of the late Brian Lenihan, senior, one of the first actions an advisor like me would take is to insist a researcher go checking every cupboard for skeletons.

The researcher would need to ferret around to identify anything controversial done or said by the candidate, 10, 20 or even 30 years earlier.

If your own side does't find it and take the sting out of it, the other side will find it and toss it at some grievously damaging part of the election campaign. And what was a mild controversy ripens over time and in the heat of an election into a major festering obstacle.

The Helen Lucy Burke interview is a classic example. David Norris relaxed over dinner with a fine writer. She wrote good restaurant critiques but even better short stories. He discussed the tradition in Ancient Greece of older men initiating young male children into sex.

At a time of heightened emotions around child abuse, it was incautious.

David Norris is conversationally outrageous and most of the time gets away with it. In this instance, the other person at the table decided to view the conversation as unacceptable, and came out of the woodwork to announce her views on radio.


Inevitably, David Norris's past support for controversial poet O Searcaigh resurfaced pretty damn quickly, to complicate matters. On the other hand, articulate supporters sprang up to defend him. In addition, the peculiar timing of the revived controversy attracted much suspicion -- did it emerge from the dirty tricks department?

David Norris's campaign cannot but have been damaged by the last week. If he is going to keep it afloat, he needs to do two things.

In every interview, he must briefly and passionately nail any suggestion that he approves of the sexual mores of Ancient Greece.

And, in every interview, find a way to continue to be the confident, upbeat David Norris he has always been.

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