A major effort is underway to elect Senator David Norris, the Dublin-based politician, as the first openly gay president of Ireland.

Norris, 65, a former Trinity College Dublin lecturer who has led the campaign for gay rights in Ireland for a generation, is a highly respected figure in both literary and political circles known equally for his Joycean expertise as his advocacy of liberal causes.

The Irish presidential election is scheduled for 2011, when current occupant Mary McAleese steps down after two terms.

The Irish President does not play a role in party politics, which is left to the  Prime Minister, but has a powerful symbolic and legal oversight function. Occupants such as McAleese and former President Mary Robinson have greatly increased the visibility and importance of the job

A group of influential liberal supporters have now begun circulating a petition and forming a Facebook site for Norris to run for president.

The online petition states in part:

"In 2011 we will have the opportunity to change Ireland again. We accomplished great feats and broke long-standing barriers with Election of President Mary Robinson in 1990. We believe it is time to make history again, We believe it is time to put real vision and passion back into the role of the president, and to reignite national debate on Ireland's future.

“We believe that Senator Norris is an individual of principle, pride and social justice and that his values reflect those of a changing Ireland.

We only ask for you signature, a small part in ensuring that the best Candidate becomes Ireland's next Head of State.”

Norris may well have good prospects for the job. The negative attitude towards party politicians in the current recession means he may be in a position to capitalize as an independent voice.

Norris is also a skilled campaigner and debater and would appeal to the more upscale Dublin electorate who voted heavily for Mary Robinson when she ran.

Last year Norris acknowledged that he has macular degeneration in his eyes, a progressive condition that could eventually blind him.

However, he stated that so far the condition has not affected him appreciably apart from giving up night driving.

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