Norris is the independent (but decidedly left-leaning) Irish Senator who is the current perceived front-runner in the upcoming Irish presidential election (around 40% support according to some polls, though this was before the controversy to which I allude below).
Given that Norris, founder of the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform, was the first open homosexual to win (semi-) elected office in Ireland, I should be wildly excited about his candidacy and chances, but I’m not.
See, I think Norris thinks he’s Mary Robinson. Robinson was elected as president in 1990, humiliating Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in the process. Her victory foreshadowed the ’92 “Spring Tide” when Labour under leader Dick Spring doubled its vote and brought about the first (and, I’m guessing, last) coalition with Fianna Fáil. (Ewwww.)
I have a few problems with the assumption that Norris could be the next Mary (Robinson):
- In 1990, Robinson had the support of two (albeit smaller) political parties: the Workers’ Party, which is no longer a force in electoral politics; and Labour, which has already nominated the Teachta Dála from Hobbiton, Michael D Higgins, as its presidential candidate.
- Given his remarks on man-boy love – never mind that he was chatting about the ancient Greeks, this is Ireland – Norris is more controversial than Robinson ever was, and early on in the campaign to boot.
- Robinson’s leading competitor in 1990, Brian Lenihan Snr., was Tánaiste and considered unbeatable as every president elected to date had Fianna Fáil’s blessing. Lenihan had been slipping in the polls (to a low of 31% mid-campaign) and Fine Gael was perceived as weak, so voters flocked to Robinson instead especially after a vicious attack by a FF TD. Many believe that it was the women of Ireland who ultimately decided the election in Robinson’s favour.
- Fine Gael is not now weak; it is the larger partner in the government coalition, the largest party of local government, and they want to win this.
Of course, you never know, and Irish politics are nothing if not dramatic and weird. Neither Fianna Fáil nor Sinn Fein seem likely to nominate official candidates, and yes, let’s just pause a moment to chew on that. FF, formerly a party that freaked out if it won less than 40% of the vote, is now too weak and apparently broke to field a candidate. And where will those FF and SF votes go?
Well, probably not to Norris. New York-based journalist Niall O’Dowd is trying to solicit support from the republican parties’ TDs for his independent bid, but it’s entirely likely that the Soldiers of Destiny will sit on their hands, amounting to a tacit endorsement of the FG candidate. Weird, but this year’s election has seemingly broken the back of dichotomous Civil War politics.
While Norris has had a heck of a time winning the municipal council support that would allow his nomination, the senator might take heart when he considers the troubles Fine Gael has had over its selection process, with former President of the European Parliament, former Progressive Democrat, and perhaps Ireland’s ultimate political loose cannon Pat Cox being the most talked-about contender. The choice of Cox, who as a PD TD previously supported FF administrations, would be like sucking lemons for diehard Blueshirts.
So we’ll see. I still like the idea of Norris as president, especially compared to some bland, undistinguished Fine Gael MEP, though my political junkie side would love to see Pat Cox get in…if only for the dead cert that he’d quit the party mid-term and piss off everyone in the process.
May you live in interesting times, Ireland!