Senator David Norris announces retirement after 36 years of outstanding service

David Norris made history in 1987 as the first openly gay person to hold office in Ireland and has been an elected member of Seanad Éireann ever since.

Senator David Norris who has announced his retirement. Norris is photographed from the stomach up, wearing a charcoal suit, white shirt and blue tie. He stands in front of a green door, smiling and waving at the camera.
Image: Seanad Independent Group

Ireland’s longest-serving senator, David Norris, has officially announced his retirement. Speaking to Trinity News, the LGBTQ+ activist who is known affectionately as the ‘Father of the Seanad’ confirmed that he would leave his post in January 2024 after 36 years of outstanding work.

“It’s time to pass on the baton,” he said.

A former university lecturer, Norris began his political career in 1987 when he was elected to Seanad Éireann. Thus, he became the first-ever openly gay person to hold office in Ireland, and since then he has been re-elected without fail. 


He has also been a fierce LGBTQ+ activist since as early as the 1970s and is remembered for having a crucial role in the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland. As well as being a Co-Founder of the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform, he was also the man who took a case to the Irish High Court in 1980, arguing that the legislation forbidding same-sex activity was inconsistent with the country’s constitution. 

Although he lost the case, he did not give up. Instead, Norris challenged the decision before the Supreme Court and then the European Court of Human Rights, finally winning in 1988, resulting in the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland five years later.

“I always, always knew it would happen. I was told it would be a long and hard battle and it was but that suited me,” Norris told Trinity News.

While his manifesto was the first to include abortion and the decriminalisation of homosexuality, he has expanded his campaigning in the last decade or so to include all marginalised groups.


In 2021, Norris was honoured with a portrait at Leinster House, which recognised his “singular contribution to Irish democracy”.

Offering advice to young activists, the 79-year-old said, “Pick something you’re really really passionate about, don’t half do it”. Similarly, when asked if there are any issues he thinks they should focus on, he laughed and commented, “I don’t know, it’s not my world anymore.”

David Norris will formally announce his retirement from the Seanad when the upper house returns after the Christmas recess.

Responding to the news, Seanad chair and Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer paid tribute to his colleague, describing him as a “champion of quality and diversity”.

“He’s a person I’ve admired from afar and working with him in this House. He’s been a huge help to me in my political life and in my personal life and many of us in the LGBT community owe Senator Norris a debt of gratitude that words could not adequately cover,” Buttimer continued.


Similarly, Seanad Independent Group whip Senator Michael McDowell said, “I want to express my deep sense of friendship, gratitude and loyalty to a member of my group,” and Senator Victor Boyhan added, “He has good plans, and I wish him well. I want to join my colleagues in paying tribute to David Norris.”

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