08 August 2011

The Story is that there IS no Story

Or, it's not the crime that's the problem; it's the cover-up.
I've said a couple of times over the last few days that the Irish media -- or at least its more respectable tentacles -- has displayed an astonishing double-standard in connection with  its coverage of the Norris saga, but I feel the weekend's developments took that to a new level.

For starters, and in the context of a constant wittering about dark conservative conspiracies, Israeli meddling, Norris's graceful withdrawal from his campaign, and the political establishment having closed ranks against him, the Sunday Independent claimed that their latest poll showed that 78 per cent of people thought Norris was right to drop out of the race, but that 54 per cent thought he had been the victim of a conspiracy, and that 45 per cent said they would have voted for him if he'd stayed in the race.

I found this staggering enough, as given the fallout of the Cloyne Report, one would think that it's preposterous to imagine as an approved presidential candidate anyone who had dismissed the statutory rape of a fifteen-year-old by a forty-year-old as being unworthy of a prison sentence, let alone that anyone who had done that should actually receive massive popular support.

However, the day's other developments troubled me even more, as the Sunday Times and The Mail on Sunday both ran extremely troubling stories about Senator Norris's views. I can't help but wonder whether there's any significance to the fact that neither is an Irish paper -- rather, they're Irish variants of British papers, with deeper pockets than Irish ones and agendas rather different to those at home.

The Sunday Times, and Unreleased Letters
The Sunday Times, for instance, apparently ran an article in which a former member of Norris's team claimed that the resignations from the team that led to the end of the Norris campaign weren't due to the Nawi letters:
'There was a lot of surprise among the team last Sunday when they read the letters he’d released as they weren’t the ones that caused people to resign.

He released the safest letters to be published. The ones that made people angry included stuff that wasn’t appropriate. It was stuff similar to what had been in the Helen Lucy Burke interview – more controversial views on underage sex.'
The Burke stuff has been talked about before, of course, with Norris having clarified his original remarks by claiming he'd been having an academic discussion about ancient Greece and was talking about pederasty, not paedophilia. Leaving aside how I don't think that's much better, whatever was in the letters that have not yet been disclosed, it sounds as though they may have muddied his clarification. In any case, if this report is true, this surely is something worthy of further investigation.

The Mail on Sunday, and a Worrying Wish
You'll remember that central to the Burke interview had been how Senator Norris, back in 2002, had mused wistfully on how 'lovely' it would have been for his adolescent self to have been initiated into sex by an older man, after the fashion of Greek pederasty. As he subsequently explained to Joe Jackson, he felt terribly alone when he was seventeen; with homosexual acts being illegal, gay culture was furtive and sordid, and he believed it would have been better for him 'if somebody, a few years older, who is handsome, athletic and so on, came along'. Well, it seems that through digging the Irish Queer Archive at the National Library, the Mail on Sunday has unearthed the minutes of the Union for Sexual Freedom in Ireland's first conference, which record:
'David said as a child it had been his greatest desire to be molested so he, more than most people, knows the rarity of the homosexual child molester.'
Now, while I suspect this is accurate, as something so easily ascertained is hardly likely to be wholly false, I think we have to put down some caveats on this: nothing else from those minutes has been reported, so we don't know the full context, and this was more than thirty-five years ago, so it seems churlish to pull up something said in Norris's youth. That might legitimately be termed 'muck-raking'. 

The Mail on Sunday again, and Guilt by Association
The other key element in the Mail article concerns Norris's involvement in the late 1970s and 1980s with the Irish and international gay rights' movements.

The International Gay Association was founded in Coventry in 1978, though I'm not sure when: Wikipedia says it was founded on 8 August, but David Norris claims to have been in Coventry, writing one of three papers that led to the IGA's foundation, on 16 October. The IGA was a kind of umbrella organisation, encompassing lots of national groups, including the National Gay Federation in Ireland. The NGFI was based at the Hirschfeld Centre on Fownes Street, a community centre for Dublin's gay community which first opened on 17 March 1979, founded and originally funded by David Norris. As well as providing a base for the NGFI, it had a coffee shop and showed films, and was largely funded by a disco held there each weekend.

The Mail quotes from letters in the Irish Queer Archive showing that during the 1980s the IGA passed motions calling for the abolition of the age of consent  and for a campaign of solidarity with the Paedophile Information Exchange, which until it was disbanded in 1984 campaigned against 'the legal and social oppression of paedophilia'.

I don't think that there can be any denying that the gay rights' movement made some very nasty allies back then, allies that were also supported by the UK's National Council for Civil Liberties, and I think that in itself it's going too far to smear David Norris for connections with this. Without more evidence, I'd be very sceptical of the Mail's insinuation that he was involved with the IGA's support for the PIE. He may have been, of course, but I'd not be inclined to buy into that without more data, and that data should be there one way or another. The Irish Queer Archive should presumably have records of who was who in the NGFI, who were the NGFI delegates to the IGA, and who was involved -- at least at an executive level -- in the passing of IGA motions. 

I'm inclined to disregard the significance of the IGA support for the PIE in connection with David Norris, as if there were evidence of his supporting such motions I'd be pretty confident the Mail would have dug it up. Seeing as the Mail hasn't managed to do so, I suspect such evidence just isn't out there. Indeed, without such evidence, I think it'd be unfair to blame him for the decisions of the NGFI's umbrella body, especially at a time when a small and beleaguered Irish organisation was probably desperate for whatever help it could get.

A Deafening Silence
Having said that, I don't think there can be any denying that the details that have come to light one way or another suggest a deeply worrying continuity of opinion throughout his adult life. In 1975 David Norris appears to have said that his greatest childhood desire was to be molested. In 1997 he told an Israeli court that the statutory rape of a fifteen-year-old boy by a forty-year-old man didn't justify a prison sentence. At least according to one interview he remained in a relationship with the perpetrator of that crime until January 2001. In 2002 he spoke up in favour of ancient Greek and modern north African pederasty, and he repeated his views on that as recently as this year. And we don't know when the letters his campaign staff actually resigned over -- assuming the Sunday Times piece is accurate -- were written. 

What I find remarkable about this is that these stories -- or at least the Sunday Times one and the Mail one pertaining to 1975 -- haven't even been touched upon in the more exclusively Irish media outlets. More than a day has passed and there's not been a peep on either of these subjects on RTE, in the Irish Times, or in the Irish Independent

I've already said that in order to deal properly with the cancer of abuse we need to define the illness, and that our attempts to diagnose it aren't helped by the media's constant repetition of a narrative that represents abuse as a primarily Catholic problem, a blight which the State has been hindered in battling by an intransigent and conservative Church. In the light of the Irish media's shunning of these new stories, I find it increasingly difficult to hold to the view that it is in any way serious about dealing with the reality of just how prevalent child abuse is.

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