Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Words on Wednesday...with David Norris

Senator David NorrisWelcome to this week's Words on Wednesday feature here on United Irelander, a concept unique to the Irish blogosphere, which sees me interview various figures from all walks of political life.

Taking my questions this week I'm pleased to say is Irish Senator and human rights activist David Norris.

I'd like to thank Mr Norris for very kindly agreeing to be interviewed. With that being said, let's begin:

What initially attracted you to political life?

I was initially attracted to political life by a sense of injustice and the belief that even in a small way people, by entering the political process, can help to change things for the better. I was also associated with Mary Robinson's first election campaign to the Senate and ultimately followed in her footsteps into the Senate via the TCD constituency.

You are a Senator representing graduates of Trinity College Dublin. Talk us through a typical day in your life.

A typical day in my life would be first of all to deal with whatever post arrives here at home, then to go down to Order of Business in the Senate. The Order of Business is often the most lively and exciting part of the day and its the one in which the limited media focus that exists for the Senate is concentrated. The rest of the day consists in making contributions where appropriate on legislation or on statements, trying to get issues ventilated such as the war in Iraq etc. I might also then have to attend one of the two committees on which I serve, the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Transport Committee.

I also deal with extensive post. Many people contact me as if I were their local TD and others raise issues, many of great substance. I may also have interviews to do either directly or with the media. At lunch I would often have somebody in who has contacted me about a particular issue or have invited somebody in myself in order to brief me from an expert position.

What are your thoughts on the Seanad? Do you feel it provides a useful service to Irish society or do you think it's in need of reform?

With regard to the Senate I do think it provides a useful service to Irish Society, in particular we led the debate on issues like the Iraq War, the CIA Rendition Flights, we had the first debate on Aids in either house and we have managed to open up the area of debate in issues such as Civil Partnership. Nevertheless I think it is certainly in need of reform and the best reform would be to make the 43 panel members, who are presently elected on basis of an electorate that consists entirely of politicians, open to the ordinary members of the nominating bodies.

If you could change three things about Irish society, what would you change and why?

The three things I would change about Irish Society would be the excessive and rather sad drinking, especially among young people whose lives are sometimes clearly damaged by excess. I would also like to see something done about the disregard we show for our environment ranging from the filthy litter strewn streets of Dublin to the pollution of our rivers and so on and finally I would change our continuing wish to live in the past and refight old battles.

What are your thoughts on a United Ireland?

With regard to a United Ireland, I have no problems with it at all as long as it doesn't cost lives. In the present European situation I think national boundaries mean less and less.

What should be done to improve the situation in NI?

With regard to improving things in Northern Ireland, I think the most important thing is to get the two principal communities to know each other and acknowledge each other's rights. The old tag about parity of esteem comes into mind. I also think that relaxing the sectarian hold on education of all the principal churches would be good because if people are educated together they get to know each other.

There have been calls in the past to allow MPs from NI to speak in the Oireachtas, perhaps in the Seanad. Would you welcome such a move?

I have no problem having distinguished speakers addressing the Oireachtas. This is already extended to MEPs and I would have no difficulty in it being extended to members of the Assembly from Northern Ireland or indeed MPs. However, I don't think this should be a statutory right as I think that should be retained to those who have been duly elected to Seanad Eireann.

Recently there was a military parade held in honour of the Easter Rising. I know in the past you have spoken of your unease at celebrating the Rising. What are your thoughts on the 1916 Rising and what did you make of the military parade?

With regard to the military parade I don't like militarism and I felt that the parade at Easter was a cynical attempt by the Government to outflank Sinn Fein.

Sticking with the Rising, you have previously commented that: "We got an Irish Free State, but there was going to be one anyway. They got kudos for that. And of course the Brits were bloody fools." However Garret Fitzgerald recently commented that to say Home Rule would have led peacefully to Irish independence was "alternative history gone mad." What are your thoughts on that?

I have of course respect for Garret Fitzgerald's opinion as he is a senior and highly respected politician who has a family background in the struggle for independence. However on this subject I disagree with him. I believe that Irish independence in the limited form gained in 1922 was very much on the cards and could have been achieved.

You have long campaigned for greater rights for homosexuals and you were the first openly gay person elected to public office in this country. What are your thoughts on the way homosexuality is now treated in modern Ireland?

With regard to homosexuality in Ireland, the treatment of gay people has certainly improved very considerably. When I was young it was not only a criminal offence but it was a subject that was not spoken of at all in polite society and any implication at all that one was gay could lead to social and economic disaster. However young people coming into knowledge of sexuality whether heterosexual or homosexual very often go through a rocky period in adolesence when they are finding themselves. This I think will continue to be true.

There is also no question that for some people and in some areas of the country things remain difficult. I hope however that when we pass legislation recognising civil partnership things will improve further.

Staying with homosexuality, you have in the past criticised Pope Benedict XVI and stated that teachings of the Catholic Church on homosexuality are "in line with the prejudices that included Hitler and Himmler". Do you stand by that view?

Yes I stand by my view on the teachings of the Catholic Church being in line with the prejudices that included Hitler and Himmler. There is unfortunately a long history of this kind of discrimination going right back to the early period of the Christian Roman Empire. Both Jews and gay people suffered parallel discrimination both socially and legislatively and the Christian Church stood firmly behind this and was in many ways the source of it.

Pope Benedict the XVI joined the Hitler Youth and was in it for a number of years. This was not compulsory as he himself has acknowledged. I have read a statement of his in which he indicated that he did so in order to acquire certain educational privileges that assisted him with his studies for the priesthood. I do think that we are entitled to a further explanation of this especially in the light of the fact that he has presided over the uttering of statements describing homosexual behaviour as intrinsically evil and objectively disordered and also tolerated the expression of the view of the Spanish hierarchy that the recognition of gay relationships represented "a virus" in Spanish society.

This is exactly the kind of language that Himmler used in his promulgation of sexual hygiene laws which were directed against gay people and which paralleled the racial hgiene laws against the Jews.

What are your thoughts on the Orange Order?

With regard to the Orange Order, I regard it as a narrow and sectarian institution many of whose foundation documents are blisteringly anti-Catholic and in that context greatly to be regretted. I was strongly opposed to the whole Drumcree episode and wrote to all the Bishops of the Church of Ireland objecting to the use of the Church of Ireland for this political purpose.

What are your thoughts on the current conflict in Iraq right now and Ireland's position?

With regard to Iraq, I am in the awful position of having predicted in the Senate exactly the tragic mess into which George Bush and Tony Blair would lead us all.

With regard to Ireland's position, we have been ambiguous to say the least. The use of Shannon airport is a moral disgrace. I was not impressed by Bertie Ahern saying that this was a tradition that had gone back over fifty years. Indeed it did and it meant that we also facilitated the appalling war in Vietnam with the destruction of many hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians lives and the use of chemical components such as Agent Orange used in a massive defolation of the countryside.

You are one of the few Irish politicians who blogs. Why do you blog and do you see more Irish politicians taking it up? (Mr Norris' blog can be found here)

The reason I blog even though I am technically illiterate is because I think it is very important to communicate with the general public, especially if you are committed to change in society and in international relations. As a result I am happy to use whatever technology comes to hand in order to disseminate ideas.

Where should Ireland be twenty years from now?

I would hope that Ireland twenty years from now would be continuing to prosper but with a greater sense of responsibility internationally and that we would be leading the way in trying to establish ethical responses in terms of foreign policy and accepting our global interconnectedness.

Finally, I'd like to play a small round of word association. I'm sure you know what it entails. Basically just outline what word comes into your head when you hear the following names:

Bertie Ahern -
Tony Blair - Insincerity
George W. Bush - Sniggering hypocrisy
Mary McAleese - If you are Irish come into the parlour
Ian Paisley - If you are Irish stay out of the parlour
Gerry Adams - Its my parlour anyway
Michael McDowell - Is the parlour licenced?
Pope Benedict the XVI - Dialogue Schmialogue
Padraig Pearse - Blood Sacrifice
David Norris - That gobshite!

Many thanks.

Thank you, Senator.

Information on future interviews will be posted soon. Be sure to keep clicking in to United Irelander for for your firsthand look at Irish political life.

Previous interviews can be read here.


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