Academics race for presidency

September 19, 1997

Dublin. Two prominent academics are in the race to succeed Mary Robinson as president of Ireland.

The outcome of the election on October 30 is uncertain now that John Hume has ruled himself out as an agreed candidate. But Mary McAleese, professor of law at Queen's University Belfast, emerged as a front-runner when she won the Fianna Fail nomination ahead of former prime minister Albert Reynolds.

In addition to Professor McAleese and Dana, the former Eurovision song contest winner whose espousal of traditional family families strikes a chord with many voters, the would-be candidates also include David Norris, a Joycean scholar who shot to prominence in Ireland in the 1980s as a campaigner for homosexual rights.

Professor McAleese was born in Belfast and is a qualified barrister at both the Northern Ireland Bar and the Republic of Ireland Bar. She spent ten years lecturing in Trinity College Dublin, where she succeeded Mary Robinson as Reid professor of criminal law, criminology and penology.

Senator Norris was born in the Belgian Congo - now the Democratic Republic of the Congo - in 1944. His father, John Norris, was a chief engineer with Lever Brothers and was knighted by Belgium for his efforts during the war years. His mother, an amateur zoologist, was Irish and returned home when David was a year old.

He was educated in Dublin and he and Mrs Robinson entered Trinity on the same day 30 years ago. She was later to act as his barrister in his legal action in Ireland and Europe to have homosexuality decriminalised. He spent 30 years at Trinity, as a student and as a lecturer in English, a post from which he retired three years ago because of ill-health.

Apart from being Ireland's best known gay man, he is also identified in the public mind with one-man shows from the works of James Joyce and with the annual Bloomsday celebrations.

It took him ten years and six elections to secure a seat in the upper house of Parliament for the University of Dublin (Trinity) constituency which returns three of the 60 senate members. His election allowed him to air other issues and he has become closely identified with highlighting human rights abuses in Timor and Tibet.

He is an outspoken, popular parliamentarian and topped the poll in the university constituency in recent senate elections.

When he first heard that he was mentioned as a possible presidential candidate he quipped that his slogan would be "Put a queen back in the vice-regal Lodge".

Since then his quest has become more serious with the endorsement of six other members of Parliament and the Green Party, but still short of the 20 MPs or four local authorities needed to become a candidate.

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