Northern Ireland

Gay senator David Norris quits Irish presidency bid

David Norris, the first openly gay candidate for the presidency of Ireland, has abandoned his campaign.

Mr Norris decided to quit the race after mounting pressure and calls for him to go.

Last week, it emerged Mr Norris wrote to an Israeli court pleading for clemency for his former partner Ezra Yizhak.

Yizhak had been accused of the statutory rape of a 15-year-old Palestinian boy in 1992.

He admitted the charge, pleading guilty and was convicted in 1997.

On Tuesday, Mr Norris said he had written the letter "out of love and concern".

In his letter, Mr Norris said his former partner was a good and moral person.

Written on Irish parliamentary notepaper, the letter said that Yizhak had been lured into a "carefully prepared trap" and had unwisely pleaded guilty to the charges.

In a statement read outside his home in Dublin on Tuesday, Mr Norris said: "The motivation to write the letter was out of love and concern.

"I was eager to support someone who was very important in my life. It is very sad that in trying to help a person I love dearly, I made a human error."

Mr Norris said he deeply regretted the controversy concerning his former partner, but not the writing of the letter.

"The fall-out from his disgraceful behaviour has now spread to me and is in danger of contaminating others close to me, both in my political and personal life," he said.

"It is essential that I act decisively now to halt this negative process. I do not regret supporting and seeking clemency for a friend, but I do regret giving the impression that I did not have sufficient compassion for the victim of Ezra's crime."

Mr Norris had needed support from five more TDs or senators to secure the nomination to stand for Aras an Uachtarain - the seat of the Irish president in Ireland.

However, three backers - Independent TDs Finian McGrath, John Halligan and Thomas Pringle - withdrew their support fuelling speculation that the senator's campaign was in tatters.

Mr McGrath said the protection of children and the integrity of the President's office had to come first.

Key campaign staff also quit over the controversy, which centred on the letter he sent in 1997 on behalf of his ex-partner.

Senator Norris' campaign was embroiled in controversy earlier in the summer when comments he made in 2002 about sexual activity between older and younger men and boys resurfaced.

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