The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Age

The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Age

David Norris at home (according to Helen Lucy Burke)
That lovable rogue David Norris may have scuppered his chances at moving into the Mansion House by being too frank with his views in a Magill interview. Or rather I should say, by being too frank ten years ago, while others decided it must be in the public interest to 'resurrect' this murky piece and give it another day in The Sun (or the Mirror or The Star).

This is more a companion piece to Bock's forensic dissection of Fionnán Sheahan's damning article in the Independent. I note that Bock disregards the reactions of the aforementioned tabloids, and as we all know, that's where damage is really done amongst the plain people of Ireland.

The level-headed Daily Mail for example scores a great series of quotes from abuse survivor, now campaigner, Christine Buckley.

They actually got her to say this phrase:

"I don’t think that David Norris would ever attempt to abuse a minor, but…"


While undoubtedly a fine person herself, she manages to throw out an enormous quantity of red herrings and non sequitors while lambasting her former ally. For example, dismissing Norris's

…claims that there was ‘a lot of nonsense’ being talked about paedophilia, saying bluntly: ‘There’s no nonsense about paedophiles – they’re monsters.’

I'm sure the sub-editors at the Mail were rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of publishing this sort of incendiary condemnation, especially coming from an ex-supporter like Buckley.

Of course, parsing her arguments doesn't require much subtlety. Here:

Norris (alleged statement): "There's a lot of nonsense being talked about paedophilia."

Buckley (rebuttal): "Paedophiles are monsters."

Now, there's a certain type of person who is allergic to the shade of grey, because to them everything is black and white. Personally, I'm indebted to David Norris for bringing to the fore (albeit unwittingly) an issue that usually triggers an emotional shut down for these simplistic souls.

"Let's discuss paedophiles," someone says. "They're all monsters," comes the reply, usually with tightly folded arms and darkened features, "end of discussion. Next topic." This type of ostrich-like behaviour is monumentally unhelpful to society.

My favourite canard from this whole affair is Helen Lucy Burke's repeated claim (on Liveline) that "Norris did not appear to endorse any minimum age" in regard to sex. Well call me a raging paedo (please don't!) but I'm rather disinclined to either.

Maybe someone should ask Helen out straight: "Ok, you tell us exactly what age does a child become an adult? Come on! It's a simple question."

She would probably dodge the question by referring to the official Age of Consent as registered in the Law of the Land. And what it that? Well, I for one thought it was 16; but looking it up, it turns out that it's 17. But so what? It's only 15 in France. And it's a mere 13 in Spain! Does that make them all paedophiles over in Madrid?

I might even point out that in some places on this very island, the age of consent is 16. Meaning that some sixteen-year-old can legally drive their tractor twenty minutes up the road from Dundalk to Newry, with their equally aged boyfriend/girlfriend in tow, and can then (while north of the border) enjoy the forbidden fruits of their adolescence, grab a bag of chips and head home within the hour. In the Republic, they'd be off to jail.

What does the clucking Helen Lucy Burke have to say about that? Where is the iron-clad, black and white distinction in that scenario? With her schoolmarm condescension towards Norris's "evil" (her word) musings, she neglects to tells us precisely where he's going wrong.

Saying "they're all monsters" and carping on about "children" without defining what a child is, is worse than useless when it comes to the law. And Norris, let us not forget, is first and foremost a legislator. While the rest of us have the luxury of being vague, imprecise and melodramatic when it comes to condemning others, it's inherent to his job that he perform a careful teasing out of the issues.

Who is a child and who is not? The wild variations between countries of consent ages, varying with almost every decade, should be confirmation that this question is not, as the Helen Lucy Burkes and Daily Mails would have it, a simple one. As Norris reflected, the issue of consent is actually the more important one.

Regardless of the accuracy() of the Magill article, the unfortunate consequence of his classical erudition and his freethinker's inquiring mind, is that he has unforgivably thought out loud.

And the plain people of Ireland, who prefer their heroes dead and their paedophiles 'strung up,' will not entertain any discussion of the real issues he has presented, but rather a discussion of whether or not he should have made any discussion of these 'dirty' topics in the first place.


  1. Norris disputes several points of Burke's article, notably her references to 'paedophilia.' He claims, quite believably that the discussion was about the Ancient Greek practice of paiderastia. It's entirely possible, given Helen's puritanical turn of mind, that she did not (and still doesn't) know the difference. Have a look at some of the typical Greek images of kouroi and decide whether or not you think they are 'children.' [back ↩]