Gay candidate’s past takes the heat off McGuinness in race for presidency

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A GAY senator has taken the heat off former IRA commander Martin McGuinness in the race for Ireland’s presidency as controversies over his past dominate the campaign.

David Norris, a charismatic literary scholar, sought yesterday to end discord over his appeals for clemency for a former partner convicted of statutory rape.

The controversies have taken the focus off Mr McGuinness whose former membership of the IRA has triggered stinging attacks from government ministers who fear his past could damage the figurehead role.

“I very much hope that we will be able to put this very sad episode behind and move on,” Mr Norris told a news conference to launch his campaign.

His unwillingness to publish letters he wrote seeking clemency for his former partner, Ezra Nawi, over a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old Palestinian boy, has created a media storm.

His admission in July that he had asked a judge to be lenient towards the Israeli came after the republication of comments he made in 2002 defending the Ancient Greek attitude to sex between men and boys. The subsequent controversy forced him to quit the race.

Mr Norris released one letter he wrote on behalf of Mr Nawi in August, written from his office in the Senate, but in a statement he read out yesterday he said lawyers in Ireland and Israel and advised him against releasing any more.

“I will not be making any further comment,” he repeated over and over as reporters peppered him with questions.

Norris re-entered the race for the presidency last month.

The 67-year-old’s effervescent personality and strong human rights record – he spearheaded the campaign to decriminalise homosexuality in Ireland – have endeared him to many.