Posted tagged ‘David Norris’

Universities and social change: the case of same-sex marriage

May 25, 2015

As most readers will undoubtedly know, Ireland voted on Friday last week on whether to amend the country’s Constitution (Bunreacht na hEireann, 1937) to include in the article on the family the following sentence:

‘Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.’

As was widely reported, two-thirds of the Irish electorate voted in favour of the amendment, thereby placing an obligation on the government and parliament (Oireachtas) to introduce legislation legalising and protecting same-sex marriage, alongside the continuing protection for heterosexual marriage.

The relatively decisive support given to gay marriage by the Irish voters is noteworthy, not least because the country has come a long way quickly. When I was an undergraduate student in Trinity College Dublin in the mid-1970s such a profound change would have seemed a very long way off, if indeed it seemed achievable in any timescale at all. However, TCD was probably the main hotbed for the emerging issue. One of its academic staff was David Norris, one of the few people at the time to have been brave enough to declare themselves gay and to bring the issue to the public’s attention. Back then the public was probably overwhelmingly hostile, but inside TCD David Norris was given the opportunity to make his case and to do so publicly.

Over the years that followed others in TCD, and other universities also, became vocal advocates for change. These included two academics destined to become Presidents of the state – Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese.

It should not be thought that universities are dedicated exclusively to progressive liberal values, nor should it be assumed that every novel idea championed by an academic should one day reflect the outlook of our national community. But it is right that higher education institutions should host and nurture opinions not at the time fashionable in wider society, and to protect those who wish to express unpopular views. In this case the big and welcome change last week carried through by Irish voters was made possible by the courage and persistence of academics, and by the university culture that gave them space to play their role. May this always be possible.

Letting the voters vote is a good idea

July 22, 2011

Depending on what country you live in, you may or may not be aware of what is going on in the presidential election campaign in Ireland. The actual election will take place later this year, and on the ballot paper will be all those candidates who have managed to get nominated. However, nomination is not a formality. A candidate will need to secure support either from a number of local authorities or from a number of the members of the Irish parliament (the Oireachtas).

A number of candidates are now lining up, and it is going to be a hotly contested race. All opinion polls confirm that there is a clear frontrunner: independent Senator David Norris. But whether the voters will actually be able to vote for him remains uncertain, as he has not so far secured the necessary nominations. In addition, his task is made more difficult by the fact that his rivals include Gay Mitchell of Fine Gael and Michael D. Higgins of Labour, and these two parties dominate the councils and the ranks of parliamentarians from whom Norris will need to secure the nomination. Indeed Fine Gael appears to have instructed its members not to support nominations for anyone other than their candidate.

So right now it looks possible that David Norris, the apparent choice of the people, will not be able secure a nomination. If this happens it will be seen by many as an outrage, and will in addition fundamentally undermine the mandate that the then winning candidate will claim to have secured. It is in fact in nobody’s interests that this should happen.

Some politicians have agreed to nominate David Norris even though they will actually be voting for someone else, and that is an entirely honourable position. Others, including members of Fine Gael, should follow this lead so as not to bring the whole election into disrepute.

Whether David Norris should be elected is another matter, or rather is a matter for the people. That he should be a candidate seems to me to be beyond any reasonable doubt.