Let me from outset say that this is one of the best autobiographies I have read in recent years. It’s entertaining, witty, thought provoking, moving and well written. You can’t ask for much more than that.
Senator David Norris is an independent member of the Upper House of the Irish Parliament. He’s never held government office, but he has been a constant thorn in the side of successive Irish governments. I almost hesitate to say it, but for British readers, he is the Peter Tatchell of the Irish Republic. He, more than anyone, has been crucial to the struggle for gay equality in Ireland. Without his bravery and courage Ireland may have languished in the dark ages in this area. It hasn’t been an easy path. He details in the book some of the disgusting things which have been said to him, and the terrible things that some people have done to him over the years. But this is not a gay memoir. It is so much more than that. Norris, an Anglican, and someone with a great affection for this country, has been a campaigner for all sorts of issues related to more general human rights. He also takes us on a journey through an Ireland which we in Britain have lost sight of – the rural communities, the characters, the nooks and crannies of Old Dublin.
Until last year I had never heard of David Norris. It was only when a Northern Irish colleague at LBC, Declan Harvey, and I started discussing the Irish presidential election that he crossed my radar. At that moment Norris was ahead in the polls and was widely expected to win, and succeed Mary McAleese. But then the vicious Irish media intervened and printed details of a letter Norris had written to an Israeli court asking them to be lenient in sentencing his long time friend and love, Ezra, who stood accused of an offence involving sex with a minor. His campaign team largely deserted him and he felt he had no choice other than to leave the race. It was a decision he was later to regret and in his book he says he should never have made such a rash decision. He later reentered the race, but it was too late. He got 110,000 first preference votes, but the media had done their work. He is clearly very bitter about what they did to him and the book is littered with references to Leveson and the fact that Ireland needs something similar. The race ruined him financially.
Norris’s relationship with his Israel friend Ezra is certainly odd. They met 30 years ago and while Norris clearly fell in love, he was treated appallingly by his younger lover. Norris worshipped him, but all he got in return was hassle. His tale is one that many of us can relate to, but in the end you end up wanting to shake him out of it. After giving some very unhelpful media interviews which finally finished Norris’s campaign off, Ezra and Norris no longer speak. It was a sad end to what for one of them had been something very meaningful. Such are the vagaries of love.
A KICK AGAINST THE PRICKS was shortlisted for Political Biography of the Year at last week’s Political Book Awards. It didn’t win, but the judges rated it highly. David Norris was at the event but nobody told me. It is my only regret of the evening that I never got to meet him. I hope one day to rectify that, so I can tell him face to face that his book is one of the best I have read in recent years.
* A Kick Against The Pricks is published by Transworld Ireland in hardback at £20