A creature made of clay- Norris pulls out of Aras race

If we’re honest, it was never going to happen.

It’s not that we wouldn’t elect a gay, erudite president. Far from it.

It’s that we were never going to be given the chance.

Mainly due to pressure of time, I wasn’t going to write about the demise of the Norris campaign, and for the same reason I’m not going to get into the moral rights and wrongs of Norris and of what he did, on headed notepaper from the Seanad or anywhere else.

But a tweet from George Hook, back on air after a holiday in Norway, changed all that.

George Hook wrote:

The political system is alive and well becasue David Norris failed to pass the rigourous test that every candidate should have to pass

Except that’s exactly what didn’t happen.

Despite the best efforts of many commentators, there appeared to be an enormous ambivalence towards Norris’ actions in writing to plead for clemency for his former partner.

In many cases, no effort was spared to shoehorn in the words “statutory rape” and “lover” in alongside the Norris name.

A Sunday Independent poll laughably asked whether or not Norris should have a partner should he be elected president.

And even if the vast majority of people ridiculed the very idea, the very fact that one of the biggest newspapers in the country would ask such a stupid question shows we’re not as grown up as we thought we were.

But that is not why Hook is wrong.

The moment the Norris campaign fell apart was not when the letters were revealed, nor during the controversy over the 2002 interviews resuscitated by Helen Lucy-Burke.

The moment his campaign fell apart was when the likes of the spineless Finian McGrath weighed up his options and decided that his interests would be best served by jettisoning Norris as fast as possible.

And in doing so, Finian denied us exactly what Hook claims we got.

The system of electing a president in Ireland is deliberately constructed to effectively disbar most Irish citizens from ever attaining the highest office in the land.

In order to get your name on the ballot paper, you must first secure the endorsement of the likes of fickle Finian and 19 of his colleagues.

And as we’ve just witnessed, even that is not usually enough as at the first sign of trouble, Finian will take his support wherever he thinks it will gain the most votes for him – not the candidate.

In withdrawing his support, he stopped the senator’s name going on the ballot paper and thus prevented the Irish people from passing the ultimate judgement on Norris.

Had we had the chance, we could have sent a clear message to Norris and the rest of the political classes that, along with being gay and clever, such interventions were either acceptable to us, or they weren’t.

Instead, Finian made up our minds for us, and all that remains is another week of talking heads telling us that is the senator – not the outdated, undemocratic, unrepresentative political system – that is wrong.

George, the only thing that today showed us is that the system doesn’t work.

Norris failed no “rigorous test”. He was damned in a poisoned court of public opinion until such time as those that supported him turned and fled.

And you can be sure that this was no test that “every candidate should have to pass”.

The asinine assortment of political nobodies left in the race inspire nothing but despair.

From left to right, they have either failed to live up to their billing, or never had a billing to live up to.

And that is why the system of electing a president should be changed. Let the Norrises and the Adi Roches and the Brian Lenihans stand up before the people, warts and all, and let the people vote. And if the people vote for them in numbers, let them be our president.

For the solution to a democratic problem is not less democracy and more decisions being taken over the heads of the electorate, including who gets to run for the highest office in the land.

As you no doubt heard during your recent two weeks in Norway, what is needed is more democracy, not less.

The real shame would be to ignore wisdom of Norris

Ireland's next president?

That David Norris would be “got at” sooner or later was a foregone conclusion. He is almost too perfect a presidential candidate for modern Ireland.

He’s gay, educated and he has a very good chance of winning. And that would never do.

I don’t believe in most conspiracy theories, especially not those that attach themselves to Irish public life, where most people are too short-sighted and selfish to have any Machiavellian designs.

It’s more the case that Irish public discourse is susceptible to its very own form of chaos theory, where the butterfly beat of a Liveline producer’s wings causes a tsunami of indignation on Today with PK the next day.

But when the waves of indignation over Helen Lucy Burke’s badly-written Magill article once again abandon the strand we would do well to read the senator’s words carefully, for there is a golden nugget among them.

Somwhere on her water-damaged interview tapes, Norris is purported to have said “I think that the children in some instances are more damaged by the condemnation than by the actual experience” of paedophilia.

For that alone, he is worth your vote in a presidential election – of all the things he told her about sex that night in what seems to be the most bizarre of interviews, this is by far the most intelligent.

For where does the shame of the victim of paedophilia come from? What is it that they have done wrong? Trust an adult? Obey them? Expect protection?

For the most part, children instinctively know that abuse is wrong, but it is the sense of shame forced upon them that guarantees their silence and allows perpetrators to continue. This sense of shame is not of their own making.

It is foisted upon them by those who abuse – “if you tell, I’ll say it was your fault. You wanted it. You liked it. You enjoyed it. You teased me into it. Besides, no-one will believe you.”

It is foisted on them by society too, as if we believe that they should have fought back, resisted, refused.

It is a shame born of the anger and rage of helpless fathers and families, who wish they had seen or heard or done more and stopped it in its tracks.

It is a shame well-known to victims of adult rape too – male and female – and is a major part in why they don’t come forward. The physical scars may heal in time, but it is the mental ones – the shame foisted upon them by us – that are ever-lasting. Any woman who ever sat in a witness box will testify to that.

You don’t believe it? Look at the Ryan report. It was only when knowledge of the appalling behaviour of the “men of God” came into the public domain that the Catholic Church started to do something about the systemic abuse of children. True, it did too little, too late, but it was better late than never.

In turn, child abuse in everything from schools to sport to family homes shot up the agenda and a raft of legislation was passed to ensure it could never happen again. For many who turned to drugs or drink to deal with the shame of the abuse perpetrated on them, it was too late.

But for those brave people who came forward and said “this shame is not mine to bear alone”, we would still have no idea of the extent of the abuse that happened in Ireland, and it would have continued unabated. The church still continues to drag its heels in making restitution, and is rightly held in contempt for it.

A friend told me once of a female war correspondent who gave a talk to other journalists about her work. She was asked about the most difficult thing she faced in the field.

“I would say it was the first time I was raped in a war zone,” she answered.

“The first time?” asked the moderator of the discussion, incredulous.

“Yes, the first time,” answered this remarkable woman. “after that, you realise it’s not about you. It’s about them“.

The problem of the legacy of child abuse in Ireland will not be solved by Norris, Helen Lucy Burke, Joe Jackson, Joe Duffy or Pat Kenny.

The problem is that the discussion about it has for the most part been about who was to blame.

But for the healing to begin properly, for us to help repair all those lives knocked off their axis by the deeds of the church and others, it’s time for a different discussion- about who was not to blame.

The children.

And shame on those who – unlike Senator David Norris – say otherwise.