Presidential candidate Senator David Norris addressed students and staff at University College Cork last Saturday. Openly gay for over forty years, Mr. Norris discussed whether Ireland is ready for a gay president. He spoke as part of an LGBT Rights Forum organised by Laura Harmon, LGBT Rights Officer of the Students’ Union.
“I haven’t got the slightest idea if Ireland is ready,” said Mr. Norris. “I’m not presenting myself as a gay president; I’m presenting myself as a president who happens to be gay. I’m not expecting people to vote for me just because I’m gay. That’s a neutral thing.”
Mr. Norris was the first openly gay person to be elected to a national parliament in the world. He explains, “I never made a meal out of it, because I knew if I did it would make me a freak. That’s all they’d ever concentrate on.”
But according to Mr. Norris, he struggled with this connection in his early days as a politician. “I was described as a ‘self-confessed homosexual’, but I never confessed anything.”
“When Mary Robinson was elected it was huge,” he recounts. “I was proud to be one of the twenty signatures on her nomination. She didn’t have to speak about feminism for the rest of her presidency. She just got on with it.”
Speaking about his capabilities, Mr. Norris said, “I’ve been around the block. I know how to behave. I know how to act diplomatically and presidentially. I know how to be treated as an intellectual and an equal.”
Mr. Norris is eager to focus on the real issues at hand in today’s economy. “There is a paw of misery hanging over this country. It needs to be lifted by shining a light into those areas that are positive and will bring us out of it.”
Mr. Norris feels the Irish people are sophisticated enough to know a person’s sexuality doesn’t matter. “After forty years I think people have gotten over it. They now realise I can do other things, and I can talk sense about the economy, transport, foreign affairs and human rights.”
An Irish civil rights campaigner and independent politician, Mr. Norris has been a member of Seanad Éireann since his election in 1987, and has been re-elected at each election since. He is the founder of the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform and is a prominent member of the Church of Ireland.
Other speakers at the forum included Cathal Kerrigan, founder of the UCC Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Society, Tanya Ní Mhuirthile of the Law Faculty at UCC, and Anna MacCarthy and Noelle Moran of LGBT gay civil marriage activists LGBT Noise.