Friday 18 January 2019

Fergus Finlay: Why I have to shout 'stop' on this attack on Norris

A couple of years ago I asked David Norris if he would do a gig for Barnardos.

It was our annual Volunteers Lunch, where we try to say thank you for all the selfless hours put in by volunteers of all ages who help in our work with children.

I wanted David to be our guest of honour at the lunch, and maybe to say something that would make them feel honoured, as they deserve to be.

David readily agreed, and on the day he entertained us all for half an hour with stories about Dublin and childhood. He quoted Joyce and Yeats -- but kept it in context and made it funny. And afterwards, he went around talking to volunteers individually, giving time to try to make everyone feel special.


Actually, he did more than that. He read up on the history of Barnardos and on the work we do with children and families. He was then, and has always been ever since, a keen supporter of our work, and an advocate of the rights of children.

I wouldn't have asked David to get involved with us if I thought he was someone who couldn't be trusted with the issue of children. For years he has been a genuine and committed supporter of the need to have the highest standards of child protection in our country. Like thousands of us, he was hurt by the revelations of the Ryan Report, and was one of the key policy-makers promoting reform of our laws in relation to children.

So when I see David being attacked over an ill-judged interview he gave years ago, with the innuendo being allowed to fester that he is in some way tolerant of paedophilia, I have to shout stop.

Yes, it was a stupid interview. I don't believe for a minute that David was misquoted or that the journalist twisted his words. Everyone who knows David knows one thing about him (and I suspect he'd admit this himself); sometimes he falls in love with the sound of his own voice, and says things that in the cold light of day he'd be horrified at. That interview was one of those occasions.

We've all done that, haven't we? And if we're all going to be judged on the stupid and thoughtless things we say, not too many of us would survive. As someone who has written thousands of words over the years, and expressed my opinions on all sorts of subjects, I know there are plenty of people who don't agree with everything I say. But I hope and think that the great majority of Irish people are well able to form judgements about character on the basis of a lifetime's work, and not just on one or two stupid remarks.

I'm working to try and arrive at the point where, in the near future, I'll become an opponent of David's in the Presidential election. I'm running for different reasons than David, and as it happens I think we need a different kind of President right now in Ireland, a "sleeves rolled up" President who sees it as his main job to rebuild hope and trust in families and communities.


But I believe in my heart that David Norris is an honourable and decent man, without an exploitative or abusive bone in his body. He has a great track record as a legislator and as an advocate, and deserves to be judged on that basis. I wouldn't agree with all his views, and I'll be hell bent on beating him in the election if I am nominated.

But I'll tell you something. He's a worthy opponent. And we need to fight the Presidential election about things that really matter right now, not about stupid things people said in the past -- especially when those things don't reflect the real character of the man. The sooner we can get down to debating the issues that matter to people, the better.

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