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Monday, June 13, 2011

Undaunted by ’Pedophilia’ Flap, Gay Pol Still Eyes Irish Presidency

David Norris
David Norris
By Kilian Melloy -

Openly gay Irish presidential hopeful David Norris has suffered a public relations nightmare following a journalist’s publicizing of a nine-year-old interview in which Norris discussed the ancient Greek custom of older men mentoring male teens--relationships that included sexual contact.

Norris made the comments in 2002 when he was speaking with restaurant critic Helen Lucy Burke. The interview was published in Magill Magazine. Burke went on a radio program recently and played up the comments, in which Norris said that as gay teen he might have benefited from the attention of an older gay man. Media headlines began to refer to the 2002 magazine story as the "pedophila interview."

Anti-gay activists frequently smear the GLBT equality movement and its leaders with accusations that pro-equality advocates seek to promote incest, pedophilia, bestiality, and other sexual deviance.

But Norris faced the firestorm started by restaurant critic by stating bluntly that he "never endorsed pedophilia, I never endorsed incest," and declared that implications to that effect were the "greatest insults" that could be hurled, reported Irish newspaper the Independent on June 1.

Burke, who says that she has been supportive of Norris’ efforts for GLBT equality in Ireland, stated that the politician should not become the next Irish president, the independent article said.

"Anyone who endorses sex between parents and children is not a suitable person for the presidency," Burke said. "We would be the laughing stock and the disgust of Europe" were Norris to be elected, she added.

"I was foolish to engage in an academic discussion about ancient Greece with a restaurant critic," Norris told the media. "I am devastated for my supporters and I want them to know what kind of person I am."

Norris, a scholar of Irish author James Joyce, took part in this year’s Bloomsday, an annual celebration of Joyce’s famous -- and famously censored -- novel "Ulysses,"reported British newspaper the Guardian on June 12.

Before Burke’s radio appearance, Norris’ "opinion polls put him way ahead of his nearest rivals in the race to succeed Mary McAleese as the republic’s head of state," the Guardian noted. After Burke’s resurrection of the decade-ld comments, "Even his supporters feared that his campaign had been stopped in its tracks."

But reports of the death of Norris’ political career may have been exaggerated, the article said, going on to note that a recent "opinion poll still gave Norris a 39% rating, 20 points higher than his closest rival."

Norris himself proved just as buoyant in the face of the onslaught that followed Burke’s radio appearance, the article added.

"I am more determined than ever to obtain a nomination and put my name forward," Norris told the British press.

Even so, the controversy can’t have helped Norris, who, as an Independent, must go to greater lengths than a member of an established political party to secure a spot among the officially nominated contenders for the Irish presidency. Norris will need at least 20 members of the Dáil Éireann (Irish Parliament) to back his bid, as well as the support of at least four county concils, or local governments. The article noted that some speculate that senators and councils from more rural areas of the country would be unwilling to offer that support.

Norris offered a different perspective, sharing his personal experience with the media.

"I have been overwhelmed by the support and encouragement I have received from the Irish people," Norris said. "I have travelled around the country extensively, meeting people and visiting community and enterprise groups. It is not for me to second-guess the views of the nation, but I believe in the innate decency of Irish people.

"I don’t think that my sexuality or the sexuality of any candidate should impact upon the contest," Norris added. "But I will say that I have represented Ireland on the world stage before. It was an honour then and it will be an honour if I am elected the ninth president of Ireland."

The article noted that Norris continues to enjoy a strong backing in the Dáil, with 12 ministers of parliament throwing their support behind him so far.

"I acknowledge that there is still some distance for me to cover to obtain a nomination," Norris said, "but I am up to this challenge."

"I cannot understand how anybody could find children of either sex in the slightest bit attractive sexually," Norris told the Magill Magaine in 2002, "but in terms of classic pedophilia, as practiced by the Greeks, for example, where it is an older man introducing a younger man to adult life, there can be something said for it. Now, again, this is not something that appeals to me.

"Although, when I was younger, I would have greatly relished the prospect of an older, attractive, mature man taking me under his wing, lovingly introducing me to sexual realities, treating me with affection, teaching me about life," Norris went on to add.

The Guardian reported in a May 31 article text will be the link> that Norris issued a statement in which he said that his remarks were part of "an academic discussion about classical Greece and sexual activity in a historical context.

"It was a hypothetical, intellectual conversation which should not have been seen as a considered representation of my views on some of the issues discussed over dinner," Norris’s statement continued. "People should judge me on my record and actions as a public servant, over the last 35 years and on the causes and campaigns, for which I have fought, and not on an academic conversation with a journalist over dinner.

"I did not ever and would not approve of the finished article as it appeared," Norris added.

There are 14 independent Ministers of Parliament currently serving in the new Irish government, which took power in February after the most recent elections.

The new Irish government includes the first two openly gay members of the Dáil Éireann, Dominic Hannigan and John Lyons. The two openly gay parliamentarians said that their sexuality was not a decisive factor for voters.

Kilian Melloy is EDGE Media Network’s Web Producer and Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes aggregate news stories and commentary for EDGE.

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