‘Faulty judgement and anti Israeli bias leave Norris unfit for Aras run,’ was the bald headline over an article by columnist Bruce Arnold in Monday’s Irish Independent. It began, ‘David Norris is not a suitable person to stand for election to the office of President of this country.’
Fergus Finlay, also a prominent columnist, was equally trenchant in demanding that Senator Norris should ‘get out of this race.’ And of course much of the media slant on the controversies surrounding the Norris bid amounted to a similar edict.
This growing crescendo of pressure to force David Norris out of the election for President amounted to a blatant subversion of the democratic rights of the Irish people to freely choose whom they wish in any election. In wanting Norris not to be on the ballot paper, there is an implied slur on the electorate that they could not be trusted to elect the ‘right’ person.
A letter writer in Wednesday’s Irish Times, Margaret O Keefe, summed it up very succinctly. ‘The Irish electorate, and not political elites or gatekeepers, should have decided Senator Norris’s electoral fate at the ballot box. He should have been facilitated by the Oireachtas to remain in the race, enabling the electorate to adjudicate on his deficits alongside his outstanding human rights record.’
This is why the Socialist Party told Senator Norris on Monday that in the almost certain situation that it would not be possible to have a serious candidate advocating a principled and comprehensive Left policy and programme being able to contest the presidency, the two Oireachtas signatures we commanded would facilitate his nomination. I believe that the same would have been the case with two People Before Profit deputies.
That would have been insufficient, however, when a number of deputies who had pledged their signatures withdrew later on Monday. Principal among these was Dublin North Central deputy, Finian McGrath, who had enthusiastically appointed himself a ‘kingmaker’ for Norris’s bid. There can’t be too many would be kingmakers in history who so dramatically subverted their cherished role by assassinating their prince before he was even close to the throne!
I do not agree with the demand in some media that public representatives or others should never make representations after somebody has been convicted of a crime. Provided that they are respectful of victims, done publicly in open court and from a genuine knowledge of the character of the subject of the representation. In this regard Senator Norris was rightly critical of himself for not showing ‘compassion to the victim of Ezra’s disgraceful crime.’ It would be as unjust, however, to infer that the Senator was condoning child abuse as to say somebody pleading for clemency for a death row inmate was in favour of murder.
David Norris would have taken positions on some economic and political issues that socialists would strongly disagree with. But he was a courageous advocate for human rights, rights of gay people and opposed to the murderous wars inflicted on the people of the Middle East by western powers. His election would have severely discomfited the political establishment.
The 1937 Constitution, despite proclaiming that ‘The President shall be elected by direct vote of the people’, virtually ensures that the establishment is not so discomfited. In fact it provides for the rigging of the Presidential nomination process to keep it within the control of the political establishment by requiring twenty signatures from Dail deputies and Senators or a majority of four local authorities to get on the ballot paper.
This amounts to the Irish people not having a free choice because they are presented only with candidates who are acceptable to the establishment political parties whether in government or in the parliamentary opposition.
The Constitution makes the President a virtual prisoner of the government of the day, making ceremonial State visits and rubberstamping legislation. In current circumstances this means being obliged to sign laws providing for the savage austerity arising from the immoral and unjust EU/IMF programme forcing the Irish people to salvage the financial gamblers of Europe.
In the very hypothetical situation that a principled Left activist achieved a nomination for the Presidential election, she or he could not simply join the ludicrous personality contest that most media will now inflict on the Irish people for the next three months pretending that it is a serious election campaign. While bringing the critical economic and social issues affecting ordinary people to the fore, and campaigning for a socialist alternative, the Left would raise the abolition of the Presidency itself as an unnecessary establishment institution.
However, in the likely scenario that Presidential elections will be with us for some time, it should be insisted on that any citizen has a right to stand without being filtered through the political establishment.