Senator David Norris delivers powerful final Seanad speech as he officially retires

Norris used his final speech in the Seanad to back the upcoming referendums on family and care and to call for peace in Palestine.

David Norris after delivering his final speech in the Seanad, posing with two other Senators.
Image: Seanad Independent Group

On January 22, David Norris delivered his final speech in the Seanad as he retires after 36 years of outstanding service. After becoming the first openly gay person to hold office in Ireland in 1987, he has been re-elected without fail since, making him the country’s longest-serving Senator.

Known affectionately as the ‘Father of the Seanad’, David Norris announced his retirement in November last year, when he spoke to Trinity News, confirming that he would leave his post in January 2024. Today, he arrived at the Seanad to give his final speech before retiring.

Faithful to his history as an advocate for LGBTQ+ and human rights, Norris used his final speech to back the upcoming referendums on the definition of family and care and to call for peace in Palestine.

“Since it’s my last opportunity to speak on the floor of this House, I’d like to continue to advocate for peace in Palestine and in particular Gaza. What is happening to the inhabitants of Gaza is appalling and cannot be allowed to continue,” he said.

Criticising the actions of Israel since October 2023, Norris added: “Man’s inhumanity to man is our greatest shame…This present government under Netanyahu has committed them instead of to life, to death. To death in overwhelming numbers for the unfortunate trapped citizens of Gaza. I deplore it completely”. The longest-serving Senator then urged his colleagues “to continue to push for peace in our time”.


On the topic of the upcoming referendums, he said: “It is important that they succeed and even though I will be retired I will be, to the best of my ability, campaigning for their success.”

The Father of Seanad then thanked all those who voted for him in his 36 years of service, saying that he has tried to represent them to the best of his ability.

A former university lecturer, Norris began his political career in 1987 when he was elected to Seanad Éireann, becoming the first openly gay Senator in Ireland. He has also been a fierce LGBTQ+ activist since as early as the 1970s and is remembered for having a crucial role decriminalisation.


Norris brought a case against the criminal ban on sexual relationships between men before the European Court of Human Rights, finally winning in 1988, a verdict that resulted in the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland five years later.

After his final speech before retiring, Norris got a standing ovation from the members of the Seanad, with many commending his tireless work in all these years and calling him “a champion for the under-privileged”. President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar both wrote letters to the retiring senator to express gratitude for all he has done for the country.

President Higgins called Norris “a champion of equality, diversity that will continue to inspire future generations” and described his career as “a journey of unwavering dedication to public service”.


The Taoiseach paid tribute to how Norris paved the way on human rights issues, especially for LGBTQ+ people, women and other minorities. He also highlighted how things have changed since Norris first became Senator, with three members of the Cabinet who are openly gay today.

“We stand on your shoulders. In your campaigns you show true leadership standing for causes that were unpopular and poorly understood. But above all, appealing to our best instincts as human beings – kindness, compassion, tolerance and acceptance,” Varadkar’s letter stated.


Others also praised the work of Senator David Norris, saying that he left Ireland a better country. Senator Victor Boyhan, the Leader of the Independent Group in Seanad Eireann of which Norris is a member, was among those who paid tribute to their retiring colleague.

“A man of true grit, energy, charm, compassion, and a great orator; all qualities he used effectively in this parliament and beyond,” Boyhan said. “Articulate, debonair, persuasive, driven, imaginative, flamboyant; the ultimate showman, a skill he uses to great effect.”

He concluded, “On behalf of the Senad Independent Group I wish David a warm farewell, we will miss you; your courageous advocacy will be your enduring legacy”.

David Norris spoke to GCN ahead of his retirement. You can find the full interview in Issue 381 of the GCN Magazine.

© 2024 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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