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Chicago's South Side Irish parade, which was scrapped three years ago because of alcohol abuse and arrests, is set to return. Photo by: Google Images

Chicago Irish community split over St. Patrick’s parade

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Chicago's South Side Irish parade, which was scrapped three years ago because of alcohol abuse and arrests, is set to return. Photo by: Google Images

Call it an epic family squabble, because in a very real way it is. The Chicago South Side Saint Patrick's Day Parade was called off three years ago after riotous scenes and attacks on local police officers hardened the mood of the city authorities.

But parade supporters wanted to reform not relinquish the parade and now with the help of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who backs the parade's return, it looks like it will step out again in 2012.

In January, City Hall approved a parade permit. an important first step in allowing the marching to begin.

But subsequently the administration has dragged its feet deciding if the parade — held the Sunday before St. Patrick’s Day — will be allowed to return after a three-year hiatus. With just 23 days until its due to step out, time - and a firm yes or no - is now of the essence.

This Friday, according to a report in the Chicago Sun Times, the parade organizers and city department will meet again.
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The Times reports that for Ald. Matt O’Shea, it's not just a political squabble - it's a family one. That's because the man leading the charge for the return of the parade is James 'Skinny' Sheahan, O'Shea's relative.

What makes it harder is that O’Shea himself loves the South Side Irish Parade, the one he remembers from his youth that is.

"Drunken idiots hijacked" his neighborhood in 2009 with acts of violence, vandalism, public urination and public sex. He persoanlly witness shocking scenes, but news that cops had been assaulted was the last straw. For 13 years, O'Shea had been part of the planning committee - and he was part of the decision to call it off too. It's a decision he doesn't regret.

"At the end of the day, any tragedy is on me,” O’Shea said. “It’s not on the parade committee. It’s not on the mayor’s office. And it’s not just that I’m alderman. I’m a father of three kids and live a block and a half from the parade route."

Mayor Emanuel embraced the parade's return without consulting the fledgling ward boss. Over O’Shea’s objection, they approved the parade application. That means he'll have to carry the can if things get out of hand. 

"A lot of people will have explaining to do and I’ll be at the podium," alderman O'Shea said.

Efforts have been made to address safety concerns. The parade committee has reportedly hired a security firm to man more than 40 checkpoints with mostly off-duty cops to reinforce a "zero-tolerance" stance on public drinking, especially by minors.

Organizers have also asked surrounding suburbs, metro and bus companies to help deter drinkers with open alcohol containers from making it to the parade route.

But O’Shea is not reassured. The plan is incomplete, the alderman told the Sun Times.

"At the end of the day, hope isn’t a strategy, You can’t just hope it won’t happen again," he said.

Meanwhile, Sheahan is pressing on regardless. 

"We think this parade can be done and get back to the basic things the parade is about — families and children and the Irish," he said.

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