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Members of the FDNY band take part in the main 2013 St. Patrick's Day Parade in Dublin. Photo by: Laura Hutton / Photocall Ireland

Irish government should mediate NYC St. Patrick’s Day dispute over parade

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Members of the FDNY band take part in the main 2013 St. Patrick's Day Parade in Dublin. Photo by: Laura Hutton / Photocall Ireland

The confusion in Irish government ranks about how to handle the St. Patrick’s Day Parade issue in New York City is evident.

Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny made clear he wants to march in the parade, but one of his key ministers, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton, says she will refuse.

It is indicative of the pressure that has quickly built up around the decision last week of Mayor Bill de Blasio not to march in the parade in solidarity with gay groups.

“Who am I to judge?” Pope Francis famously remarked about gay people when asked.  He got it about right, and the need for the Irish community, both gay and straight, not to be judgmental is obvious even as they are both doing so.

The role of the Irish government on this issue is important. It is not enough to have Ireland’s image on St. Patrick’s Day be a throwback to the fighting Irish and lots of commentary on homophobia and radical politics.

With five weeks to go the opportunity for a negotiated settlement to the issue is still there.

Who better to do it than the Irish government, which certainly has a dog in this fight given the need for Ireland to put its best foot forward at that vital time of year?

As former parade grand marshal Dr. Kevin Cahill, one of the most respected leaders in the community, told the Irish Voice last week, in the era of Pope Francis and the Irish peace process surely it is possible to negotiate a settlement to the issue.

It’s interesting to note that after years of marching without a banner in the Israeli Day parade, the LGBT marchers were finally accepted last year and marched under their own flag.

A solution, however it was worked out, happened, and it is an interesting example for the Irish to point to.

Who knows what might happen if the Irish government, which has seasoned diplomats on the ground who know this issue and have good relationships with all sides, put their shoulder to the wheel?

One can hardly imagine a more important topic than the image of Ireland and Irish America this St. Patrick’s Day.

In the wake of The Gathering, the Notre Dame football game in Dublin and the nascent economic recovery, there is good news to report for this government when it travels abroad.

That message will be utterly obscured by the name-calling and nasty reverberation of the donnybrook on Fifth Avenue if it goes ahead.

In an era of instant media, the image that Ireland doesn’t need or want will flash around the world in an instant.

Remember the angry scenes for years with cameras picking up the hate and defiance on both sides?  Is that what we want in 2014?

Remember 1993, when members of the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization (ILGO) marched with Mayor David Dinkins and the brave members of Division 7 of the Ancient Order of Hibernians? There was a near riot on Fifth, with beer cans flying and cops intervening.  We are better than that as a community.

Negotiation is certainly a better option than waiting for the inevitable collision on St. Patrick’s Day with lots of bruised and battered feelings on both sides.

Talking is better than fighting, and negotiating a settlement is much better than having tempers flare and the battle roll along Fifth Avenue. The Irish government should grasp the opportunity.

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