In 1997 Senator David Norris wrote a letter to the Israeli High Court in an appeal for clemency for his former partner, Mr Ezra Nawi Yizhak, who was before the courts having pleaded guilty to the statutory rape of a 15 year old boy. Bishops and others in the Catholic Church, in this country and elsewhere, have protected child molesters and rapists from the criminal justice system and, even worse, left such people in positions where they had access to more children, and all too often, those who the bishops had protected went on to molest and rape more children. The usual apologists for the Catholic Church who try to equate what Senator Norris did with what the Catholic hierarchy did don’t fool me. No opportunity by such people to minimise the Catholic Church’s role in causing the sexual abuse of so many children is lost and no opportunity to give vent to their homophobia is missed.
No gutter too deep either.
Does that mean that there is no problem with Senator Norris’s letter? No it does not.
I haven’t spoken to Senator David Norris since this weekend’s revelations but before I came away on holiday yesterday, I listened to people speaking on radio who have.
I gather that Senator Norris acknowledges that his writing of that letter, in 1997, to the Israeli High Court in an appeal for clemency for his former partner, Ezra Nawi Yizhak, was wrong.
I’m glad to hear it, because it certainly was wrong.
I’m sure I’m right in saying that at least two Government ministers in recent years have had to resign from office in circumstances where they sought to intervene, in some way or other, on behalf of people who were the subject of the criminal justice system, or who were seeking to help others who were the subject of the criminal justice system.
If the same standard is to be applied to Senator Norris then it is not possible to support the view that he could hold the highest office in the land having intervened the way he did. Neither could anyone else who made similar interventions.
But my concerns about the letter go further, because Senator Norris went a lot further than just pleading for clemency. Most of Senator Norris’s pleading is on technical grounds some of which I would have to take issue with. In fact it’s more than that. What Senator Norris sought to do, whether he realised it or not, was to minimise what Mr Yizhak had done. His motivation seems to have been to try and secure a non-custodial sentence for Mr Yizhak. Unfortunately that doesn’t make it okay.
Serious offences, including statutory rape, require a custodial sentence. I don’t support calling for a non-custodial sentence in a case of this nature on the basis that the perpetrator pleaded guilty and I am surprised to read the claim in Senator Norris’s letter that in this jurisdiction such a mitigating fact would very likely result in a non-custodial sentence.
I have long been on the record as saying that possession of images of child sexual abuse should automatically attract a custodial sentence, so I can’t support a non-custodial sentence for statutory rape.
I am also perturbed to read Senator Norris refer to Mr Yizhak's guilty plea as unwise; if Mr Yizhak committed the offence then it is only right and proper that he should admit his guilt at the earliest opportunity to save the young boy, who was the victim in this case, any further distress that may be caused by further court proceedings including a trial.
Senator Norris also raised the issue of consent in mitigation by referencing studies which apparently argue that in some cases where the victim can be considered the instigator or at least a willing participant, a sentence towards the lower end of the range would be appropriate. I cannot in all conscience support the use of such an argument in mitigation by Senator Norris.
Senator David Norris was wrong to write that letter and I think in these circumstances he should withdraw from the nomination process to become President of Ireland.