David Norris honoured with portrait for his human rights work

Senator David Norris, who is responsible for the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform in Ireland, will have a portrait of him hung in Leinster House.

David Norris and portrait which will hang in Leinster House
Image: Twitter @SenatorMcDowell

Holding the record for continuous service in the Seanad with 34 years under his belt, Senator David Norris says it would be “a real honour” to have his portrait hanging in Leinster House.

Organised by Senator Rónán Mullen, 77 year-old Norris was honoured for his work as human rights campaigner at an intimate gathering in the Private Dining Room in Leinster House.

“Vitas bravis, Ars longa,” announced Mullen at the commencement of the unveiling, which roughly translates as “life is short but art takes time.”

Norris, known affectionately as the ‘Father of the Seanad’, sat for artist William Nathans who called his subject “a perfect sitter in that he remained completely still and he respected the process of the artist’s work”.

The end result of the sitting was kept beneath a velvet drape until the anticipated moment of unveiling by the Ceann Comhairle at the private party, delighting Senator Norris with his likeness.

Norris, who has suffered poor health in recent years, undergoing a liver transplant and battling cancer, was assured by the Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, that “this is not a valedictory event”.

“We are not bidding farewell to you,” he said, “quite the contrary, we are marking 34 years of service… We recognise your singular contribution to Irish democracy.”

Over the course of the evening, the Ceann Comhairle also called Norris a “[Senator] through and through” and remarked that his peers hold him in very high regard, making him all the more worthy of this bestowment.

“He remains a man of honour, of conscience, of wit, of huge intelligence and of deep humanity,” Ó Fearghaíl said of the honouree. He added, “At a time when Dublin seems to have returned to destroying landmarks to create yet more hotels, voices like David’s must continue to be heard.”

Singled out in the list of the thanks and praises was the guest of honour’s long-time parliamentary assistant, Miriam Smith, who watched the unveiling of the David Norris portrait with teary eyes and said fondly afterwards, “Not a cross word between us in 26 years.”

“You are an absolute legend, you really, really are,” said Regina Doherty of Fine Gael.

David Norris began fighting for LGBTQ+ rights in Ireland as early as the ’70s but his case against the criminalisation of homosexuality was defeated in the High Court in 1980. Norris continued to fight for equality in Ireland and was later successful in his efforts, with the decriminalisation of homosexuality becoming official on June 24, 1993.

© 2021 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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