Wednesday 16 January 2019

Eamon Keane: How could Norris be so naive that he didn't seethese attacks coming?

Politics. A cruel, vicious and unrelenting game. And after that it goes downhill .

Senator David Norris has had three days in hell and it hasn't been pretty. It never was going to be.

Consider the stakes -- the prize of being the next President of Ireland.

It's one all the big parties want. Enda Kenny does not want to lose an election eight months in. Eamon Gilmore would be greatly boosted if his man or woman gets in.

For Micheal Martin it is a long shot but would represent a great fillip. For all the other independent contenders it would represent the pinnacle of their careers. A place in history assured with one of the most prestigious appointments in the country.

All the other contestants will benefit from the senator's troubles. David Norris is asking why someone would raise a nine-year-old interview now?

It is a rhetorical question -- the implication being that it is designed solely to scupper his chances. Any study of previous elections would have told the senator that. If David Norris is guilty of anything it is naivety. A naivety that has allowed a witch hunt to gather momentum.

Firstly, any interview you ever do can and will be used against you. Secondly, you're not in private when a microphone is on. And in public life you are always 'on'. His interview with Helen Lucy Burke was on the record. Funnily, she considers it vital that people are made aware now, but did she consider it that important when Mr Norris ran for the Seanad?

Setting out at the start of Mr Norris's campaign, his team must have known this would come up. Did they have an immediate response ready? Did they have respected commentators lined up to come out and defend? Did they understand what the key line of his remarks would be and how they would counteract any misinterpretation?

I am not adjudicating on the merits or demerits of what he said. Among friends, things can be said in a certain way and tone that is understood by all parties. To Joe Public, or one of the many county councillors, Mr Norris needs to vote for him, it is a different matter. Mr Norris and his team should have studied previous elections. Adi Roche was the victim of a smear campaign during her run for the presidency in 1997.

She was accused of various matters and her family were dragged into it. None of it was true but that didn't matter. It never does in politics and Ms Roche was too good for politics. And, as she later admitted, she couldn't and wouldn't play dirty: "I didn't have that thing where I would fight at any cost, say anything to get the prize. There were things I could have done. Other people resorted to those tactics. I couldn't,'' she said.

Back in 1990, Brian Lenihan Snr was way ahead in the presidential race when he, too, fell to things he had said or more specifically not said. It revolved around whether eight years previously he had phoned President Hillery to ask him not to dissolve the Dail at a time when Garret Fitzgerald was requesting such a move. First he admitted he did make such a call. He then retracted but was done in by a tape from Trinity postgrad student Jim Duffy, who recorded Lenihan saying he did ring President Hillery.


Lenihan still led in the election polls until fellow FFer Padraig 'Pee' Flynn came out with his infamous comments about Labour candidate Mary Robinson's 'newfound' interest in the family. After that Lenihan was finished.

The point is it gets dirty. It always gets dirty. The personal cost of politics is huge. David Norris is about to learn just how great that price is.

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