DUBLIN, Ireland ─ Deserted by key supporters over revelations about controversial events in his past, Senator David Norris has ended his campaign to become Ireland’s first openly gay elected president.
Norris announced he was withdrawing from the campaign Tuesday afternoon because “I have made a human error.”
Norris’s campaign began to unravel when it emerged at the weekend that he had appealed to the Jerusalem High Court fourteen years ago for leniency for his former partner, Ezra Yizhak Nawi, who had been convicted of the sexual abuse of a 15-year-old Palestinian boy.
The letter containing the appeal came to light when a 22-year-old law student published details on his blog site.
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Seven campaign members of the senator’s fifteen-strong campaign force, including his director of elections and director of communications, resigned Saturday on the grounds that Norris had not made them aware before of this potentially damaging episode when they joined his team.
With news that other letters seeking clemency for Nawi were about to be published, public support for Norris’s candidacy ebbed to the point where it became clear he could not get his name on the ballot paper.
Framed by the metal railings on the steps of his Georgian home in Dublin, the 67-year-old senator told a huddle of reporters and camera crews, “I do not regret supporting and seeking clemency for a friend, but I do regret giving the impression that I did not have sufficient compassion for the victim of Ezra’s crime.”
He added that his former partner, “served his time and never offended again.”
Norris needed the endorsement of twenty members of the Irish parliament or of four of the country’s thirty-one councils to get his name on the ballot paper for the October election.
He had secured the support of only fifteen members and one council before the controversy blew up and his chances of reaching either target were clearly remote. Tuesday morning three of the fifteen parliament members withdrew their support and others said they were reconsidering their position.
One of the three, Finian McGrath, coordinator of an effort to get the backing of twenty members for Norris, said he could no longer support the nomination as “children and the presidency have to come first.”
Disclosure of Norris’s action in providing a character reference for a man accused of statutory rape came just weeks after a controversy about his views on homosexual relations between men and boys.
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Opponents unearthed an interview he gave Magill magazine in 2002 in which he said he did not find children sexually attractive but “where it is an elder man introducing a younger man to adult life, there can be something said for it.”
Norris has a strong record on human rights and has been outspoken in support of the Palestinian cause, while remaining on cordial terms with Israeli officials.
In his appeal to the judges of the Israeli supreme court, Norris described himself as a senior member of the foreign affairs committee of the Irish parliament.
He said Nawi, a plumber in Jerusalem and Norris’s friend for twenty-three years, was an “intelligent, honest, trustworthy, good and moral person for whom the present difficulty is uncharacteristic.”
Without giving details, he told the court that the arrest “took place in a curious and troubling manner” and he claimed that Nawi, also outspoken in the Palestinian cause, had been “lured into a carefully prepared trap.”
The Israeli embassy in Dublin said Tuesday that allegations that it had been involved in leaking the letter had “absolutely no foundation.”
“No such letter was or is in the possession of the embassy; as in Ireland, the judicial system in democratic Israel is entirely separate from the government and the ministry of foreign affairs.”