Monday, August 1, 2011

Senator David Norris

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.



  1. Thanks for that Andrew, I agree with and endorse what you have written. We have to remain unequivocal with regard to sexual relations with minors. The power imbalance in these relationships cannot be glossed over. It is sad to see Senator Norris being brought down because of good work he has done in the past. However, he erred fundamentally in questioning the victim impact and the question of consent in these matters. Fergal Brady, Psychotherapist.

  2. This treatment seems incomplete without considering that Ezra Nawi is a lifelong Jewish activist for Palesinian rights in Israel and is someone who has suffered harassment and torture at the hands of the government(according to Amnesty sources). The case did seem unusual in that the victim was coerced by the government to take the case a long time after the events.
    Many prominent people have written letters on his behalf to the Israeli goverment, it seems that this rape case was kept secret. When Ezra Nawi is continually accused of campaigning to turn Arabs gay, running a secret "Project Homo" in Palestine and serially molesting little girls and boys, sexually assaulting Israeli soldiers, why would the government keep this case quiet? Why would they essentially let him off when he has been jailed for much lesser crimes in the past?
    It seems clear that the prosecution was not straightforward.

    Additionally, as David Norris was not a member of the governement in Israel, how can his letters be construed as interference?

  3. In reply to Fergal's comment - it has been demonstrated in the Irish Supreme court that remaining unequivocal in cases of statutory rape is unconstitutional under Irish law because it is unfair to the accused and that those accused are entitled to a defence. For instance, their genuine and reasonable belief that the person is over the age of consent.