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.