No winners in Norrisgate saga
By The Insider
There are no winners in this whole sorry saga. Sen David Norris’ bid to address the Galway City Council looks set to be rejected for a third time; Mayor Hildegarde Naughton looks certain to compound her new found reputation as Galway politics’ ‘Calamity Jane’, and Michael J Crowe has come out of this none too well either.
Let us review the situation - a vote came before the council recently seeking permission for Sen Norris to address councillors with a view to securing their support for him to enter the presidential debate.
An amendment to the original motion was proposed and defeated. The main motion was then voted on and was tied seven all. Mayor Hildegarde Naughton then had to use her casting vote and voted against Sen Norris speaking.
Let us be clear on this - Mayor Naughton voted against the motion to let Sen Norris address the council chamber twice and Insider has attended enough council meetings to know that these votes are taken carefully to ensure there is no confusion on the part of councillors. Therefore there was no room for ‘misunderstanding’.
There the matter seemed to have ended, if only! Attending the launch of the Galway Arts Festival that evening the mayor was left in no doubt that the public took a dim view of the decision and that many considered it a denial of a person’s freedom of speech and right to partake in the democratic process.
In an attempt to undo the damage Mayor Naughton said she would seek to call a meeting to re-take the vote. It was embarrassing enough for a politician, who appeared to have a knack of tapping into the public mood, to have to take such a U-turn, but she then made things far worse when she claimed she had “misunderstood” what the original vote was about.
Such comments made her look like she did not know what was going on but, worse still for her was that nobody bought that “misunderstood” line for a moment. The mayor’s first week in the job had ended with her looking foolish and now her attempts to undo the damage will result in her having egg on her face again. Why?
The Mayor has secured the support of eight councillors, the minimum needed, to hold a meeting to discuss overturning the original vote. That is just for the right to hold the meeting though. In order to overturn the actual vote itself, the support of at least 10 councillors is required. Only with the support of those 10 can Sen Norris get to address the council chamber.
The problem for the Mayor is that she will not be able to secure the 10 votes. The three Fianna Fáil councillors and Fine Gael’s Pádraig Conneely will be voting against; Independent councillor Donal Lyons is likely to do the same; and fellow Independent Declan McDonnell looks set to abstain.
So Mayor Naughton will have gone through all this only to arrive back at where she started - Sen Norris denied speaking time and she having miscalculated the situation for a third time.
The mayor must be hoping that things cannot get any worse for her and it surely must be playing on her mind that a bad start to Niall Ó Brolcháin’s mayoral term played a role in scuppering his long term ambitions.
Playing party politics
Despite the mayor’s claims of misunderstanding, what really lay behind the FG councillors’ original decision to block Sen Norris?
Simple, party politics.
FG has never held the presidency but it knows that as the main Government party and largest party in the State, it has the best chance it has ever had of winning the office. It knows its candidate Gay Mitchell has a fair level of support, but that Labour’s Michael D is snapping at his heels. It also knows that if Sen Norris is in the race, he also poses a significant threat to Mr Mitchell’s chances.
FG therefore wants to minimise the field of candidates as much as it can and as a result its Galway city councillors had to ensure that Sen Norris was given no chance of securing the backing of the council - so cut him off at the pass and vote against giving him a hearing. Kill it stone dead before it starts.
If Mayor Naughton had simply admitted this straight off, she would have endured criticism, but it would have at least been an honest admission of motive. Also the controversy would have died down as Galway quickly became engulfed in arts festival and races fever.
Insider has something to say about this though. Sen Norris’ application to speak is just that, an appeal for the right to be heard. He is as entitled as any member of a political party to argue his case as to why he should stand for election as president. It says nothing good about the political parties that they would seek to prevent someone outside the system from at least asking to be given a chance to be heard.
The presidency is an office above politics, not an exclusive junket club for the ‘good ol’ boys’ of the mainstream parties. FG, by their actions, were indulging in the kind of skulduggery we would normally expect of Fianna Fáil.
Yes, it is within the councillors’ rights not to hear him if they so choose, but by endorsing his right to speak or run they would also be validating the democratic process that allows the councillors themselves to stand before the people at election time. Why, when they partake in this system, will the councillors not let Sen Norris partake in it as well, and allow him get his presidential campaign off the ground?
Endorsing Sen Norris’ bid to run is not a vote in favour of him becoming president. It certainly does not bind any of the councillors to give Sen Norris a vote on polling day.
What it is, is a recognition that Sen Norris, as a native son and citizen of Ireland, has a right to run in an election for the highest office in the State. It is nothing less then the endorsement of the democratic process and a signal that the members of the Galway City Council believe in that process and the right of citizens, regardless of their political allegiances, to partake in it. The vote to prevent that is the real source of shame for Galway.
Michael J Crowe
Last week Cllr Crowe explained to the Galway Advertiser why he would not support Sen Norris. He did point out that “it is not the fact that Senator Norris is an openly gay man that is causing the difficulty”. Glad to hear it, even though Insider was disappointed that Cllr Crowe did not add immediately afterwards, “Indeed, some of the best homosexuals are my friends”!
Joking aside, as this is a serious matter, Insider would indeed hope that any opposition to Sen Norris’s presidential bid is not based on his sexuality. To any who do oppose him for being gay Insider would just remind them of the words of American screenwriter and director Robert Towne:
“People who can’t think of anything else but whether the person you love is indented or convex should be doomed not to think of anything else but that, and so miss the other 95 per cent of life.”
Cllr Crowe said his concerns rested on comments Sen Norris made on pederasty and prostitution to Magill in 2002. However there is much dispute about those remarks, the nature of them, and the context in which they were placed - giving rise to doubts about their accuracy of how well they reflected Sen Norris’s views.
If Cllr Crowe had real concerns about Sen Norris’ views on such subjects he should have backed calls to allow Sen Norris address the Galway City Council. There he could have quizzed the Dubliner on such concerns and allow a debate to take place on these subjects.
It would have allowed Cllr Crowe to raise issues of concern to a section of the public and afforded Sen Norris the chance to clear the air on any misunderstandings that have arisen. This would have been in both men’s favour and to both men’s credit. However Cllr Crowe failed to recognise this opportunity afforded by the democratic process.
This whole affair is one long, sad, sorry, saga in which there are no winners.