The sheen has certainly gone off Senator David Norris, someone I used to have enormous respect and admiration for (even if his bonhomie demeanour and scattershot approach to politics did at times did grate on one’s nerves). We’ve had the scandal over his much debated opinions on paedophilia, pederasty and the age of consent expressed in a 2002 Magill magazine interview a number of years ago which came back to haunt him with the announcement of his candidacy for the presidency.
Then there was the revelation of a 1997 letter containing a plea of clemency for his Israeli former partner, Ezra Nawi, who was convicted by a court in Israel of committing statutory rape on a teenage Arab-Israeli boy (though there seems to be some dispute over when exactly Nawi became a “former” partner). That has been followed by the news that there were in fact several letters, none of which Norris is prepared to make public (due to “legal advice”), despite repeated demands to do so.
Fast on the heels of that shock came another blow with the uncovering of Norris’ extraordinary attempts to get an Irish passport for his then lover, the Algerian-born Tevfik Akin. Akin’s application for citizenship was turned down in 2006 but Senator Norris’ repeated lobbying led to him gaining Irish nationality.
We’ve had the somewhat less surprising claim from Victoria Freedman, the biographer of David Norris, that he had a six-month affair with one of his students in Trinity College, an as yet anonymous twenty year old American man.
And during the campaign itself we’ve had several accusations from politicians and journalists of intimidation and threats being made by the staff members of the Norris campaign towards those they view as enemies or insufficiently pro-Norris (which the candidate himself has disavowed).
Now we have the latest furore to envelop the Joycean scholar, as the Irish Independent claims that he was in receipt of a disability allowance for 16 years despite being a full-time (and fully salaried and expenses paid) member of Seanad Éireann. According to the story, published via the Belfast Telegraph:
“Independent presidential candidate David Norris received a disability payment for 16 years while out of work as a Trinity College lecturer — even though he was a “full-time” senator for the entire period.
Mr Norris confirmed to the Irish Independent last night he received the payment, but could not specify exactly how much it was worth.
He also refused to say what his disability is.
The 67-year-old Joycean scholar worked as a tutor and lecturer in Trinity between 1968 and 1994, when he took the disability payment and stopped working in the college.
The payment began in 1994 and ended in July of last year, when he reached pension age. He has since received a pension from the college, worth around €2,500 a month.
Mr Norris… also receives a senator’s salary of €61,073.
He also said he spent his annual leader’s allowance — the €23,383 Independent senators receive in unvouched expenses every year — on his Seanad work.“
It’s hard to see where Senator Norris can go after this. With anyone else, and this amount of troublesome revelations, a simple retirement from the public eye would have happened long ago. Unfortunately the Senator is not simply anyone. At least, perhaps, in his own view of himself. To see a basically decent and honest man brought down by his own overweening ambition and hubris is chastening indeed.
There but for the grace of God…