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Old words cause new problems for Norris

Controversial comments about pedophilia have come back to haunt the man tipped to be Ireland and Europe's first openly gay president.

The remarks were originally made in an interview nearly a decade ago, but resurfaced this week and evidently damaging Senator David Norris's chances of succeeding Mary McAleese to the Irish presidency. Thus far Norris has been ahead in all opinion polls.

The comments were given to current affairs magazine, Magill, in 2002.

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"I haven't the slightest interest in children, or in people who are considerably younger than me," he said.

"I cannot understand how anybody could find children of either sex in the slightest bit attractive sexually. But in terms of classic pedophilia, as practiced by the Greeks, for example, where it is an older man introducing a younger man to adult life, there can be something said for it. Now, again, this is not something that appeals to me.

"When I was younger, I would have greatly relished the prospect of an older, attractive, mature man taking me under his wing, lovingly introducing me to sexual realities, treating me with affection, teaching me about life."

The republication of the comments pose a challenge to Norris and how he handles the fall-out may determine if he gets into the presidential race at all.

Norris, a renowned James Joyce scholar, has already denounced the resurfacing of the interview as part of a "smear" campaign to stop his presidential bid. He said those who were circulating it should be" ashamed of themselves."

"I answered all the questions and now that article is being sent to all the county councilors in an attempt to prevent to get me from getting the nomination," he said.

He also added that he "abhorred" any sexual contact with children, and opposed pedophilia and incest in all its forms. In a statement, Norris, who recently visited New York, said in the interview he had "engaged an academic discussion about classical Greece and sexual activity in a historical context. It was a hypothetical, intellectual conversation which should not have been seen as a considered representation of my views.

"People should judge me on my record and actions as a public servant over the last 35 years and on the causes and campaigns for which I have fought, and not on an academic conversation with a journalist over dinner."

But the controversy has continued to rage, as the journalist who conducted the original interview contacted a radio show live on air to defend the veracity of her article.

Helen Lucy Burke rang the program to contest Norris's claim that she had continually turned her tape recorder on and off during the original interview. Burke claimed on air she had amended a draft of her article in Magill before publication to allow for Norris's suggestions. She added she still had a taped copy of the interview with the senator.

The senator is seeking a nomination from 20 TDs and senators, or the backing of four city and county councils, this in order to obtain the required nomination to stand for the Irish presidency.

Last week in a newspaper opinion poll, 44 percent of those polled said they wanted Norris to succeed Mary McAleese.