Ireland’s David Norris Does New York

Irish Senator David Norris, one of the leading gay activists in his nation’s history, is now the leading candidate for president of the Republic of Ireland.

Norris held court over breakfast with gay and Irish leaders on May 4 at Agave in Greenwich Village, sharing his vision for an office that has limited constitutional powers but powerful symbolism.

“I am about inclusion and diversity,” said the 65-year-old Joyce scholar and independent politician whose record certainly bears that out. He is the founder of the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform –– which worked in both the Irish Republic and the British-controlled north of Ireland. In 1980, that group brought legal action to get anti-sodomy laws declared unconstitutional, failing in the Irish courts but prevailing in the European Court of Human Rights in 1988. It took the Irish government until 1993, however, to reform the laws.

Veteran out gay senator tipped as next president of the Republic

The Campaign’s first legal adviser was Mary McAleese, the current President of Ireland, who was followed in that role by Mary Robinson, who in 1990 was elected the Republic’s first president.

Norris hopes to build on the two women’s tradition of outsiders in that post in the October election. Robinson and McAleese both taught law at Trinity College in Dublin, where Norris was a lecturer and college tutor.

Voters first sent Norris to the Irish Senate in 1987 as the first out gay elected official, representing the University of Dublin constituency. His has won re-election ever since, most recently this year. Active in the arts, he is also credited with bringing Irish ex-pat James Joyce back into favor in his home country.

Irish-American gay activist Brendan Fay pulled a crowd together for Norris that included Irish Consul General Noel Kilkenny and out gay Queens Democratic City Councilman Daniel Dromm. When Fay noted that Prime Minister Enda Kenny, Ireland’s most powerful political leader, was also due in town that day, Norris quipped, “He’s trying to upstage me!”

Dromm told that the crowd that he himself managed to get elected in what was thought of as a conservative area, “the home of Archie Bunker.” Norris, referring to the late Carroll O’Connor, who played Bunker for 15 years on TV, shot back, “I’ve met his cousin” in Ireland.

Norris said that his current 30-percent standing in the polls –– versus his nearest rival at 13 percent, has made him the favorite with bookies. It has also made him the target of attacks by the mainstream parties.

“The people of Ireland know me even if those trying to tear me down don’t,” he said. “I will be elected on my strengths, not anyone else’s weaknesses.”

While Norris said he would be the first independent president of Ireland if elected, he noted, “I can’t say if I would be the first gay.” However, he clearly would be the first openly gay person in the position.

“We’ve largely won our fight in Ireland,” he said of the gay cause in a country where civil partnerships for same-sex couples were just initiated. “Now we must apply it to others,” citing the Travellers, a nomadic people in Ireland, the disabled, and people of color.

In a recent meeting with gay activists in New York, Eamon Gilmore, the deputy prime minister of Ireland, said he is committed to moving the nation toward full marriage equality.

Norris said his platform includes removing the stigma of mental illness, rights for minorities, and revitalizing the badly damaged Irish economy, stressing the strengths and enterprise of the Irish people and things like “Celtic science,” not just Irish literature.

“I’m a polemicist,” he said, “moving from an argument to a conversation with the Irish people.”

Reflecting on the visit, Fay said, “David Norris’ campaign for the presidency is energizing the people of Ireland and Irish people in America the way that Mary Robinson did in 1990. I believe that his charisma and commitment will carry him and us to another historic milestone.”

Norris’ trip also included a meeting with out lesbian Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a Chelsea Democrat who has made Irish issues a priority during her tenure. She called it an honor and “great fun” to meet with him.

“He delighted our group with his gregarious charm and clear intellect,” Quinn said. “His run for president of Ireland is groundbreaking, especially as we work toward marriage equality here in New York. I look forward to watching his historic campaign unfold.”

Only Irish citizens can donate to Norris’ campaign. His website is norrisforpresident.ie.

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