Former New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade Chairman John Dunleavy. Factions square off within leadership of one of world’s biggest parades.Dominic Totino

The confusion over the position of John Dunleavy with regards to the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade has been clarified by members of the board responsible for all the policy, legal and financial aspects of the parade:

They say categorically that Dunleavy does not have authority to speak on behalf of the parade in any respect, nor can he thwart the decision unanimously taken by the board during a conference on Tuesday to have a second gay group join next year’s line of march. Dunleavy has been adamantly opposed to having gay groups in the line of march.

Dunleavy is also not in a position to negotiate TV rights for the parade – which he tried to do earlier this year – or to decide who the grand marshal will be.

Dunleavy retains the title of chairman of the parade committee with the sole responsibility of organizing the formation of the marching groups on March 17.

The chairmanship of this committee, which was always assumed to have full control of all aspects of the parade, actually falls under the umbrella of the board, a reality which was formalized during Tuesday’s conference.

The Irish Voice and IrishCentral spoke with board sources, and also received input from Dr. John Lahey, who was unanimously elected chairman of the board by a vote of 12-0 during Tuesday’s conference call.

When the parade was formally incorporated some 20 years ago and received non-profit 501 (c)(3) status, the group created to facilitate this was the NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Inc. The board of directors of this group consists of 16 members – Dunleavy is one of them: Lahey another -- and a decision was recently made to formalize the board’s position as the sole legal authority to act on behalf of the parade.

The board was due to convene in September to clarify parade policy going forward, particularly with regard to the inclusion of gay groups. Board members have long been divided over the decades-long issue, which was brought to a head during the 2014 march when sponsors withdrew from the parade and politicians led by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio staged a boycott.

Fearing a similar scenario this year, it was decided by the board to extend an invitation to OUT@NBCUniversal, the LGBT support group of NBC, whose local affiliate WNBC airs the parade live every year. Dunleavy was steadfast in his opposition to this move, even when Cardinal Timothy Dolan gave his seal of approval by agreeing to be grand marshal.

Sponsors returned to the parade but politicians, including de Blasio, stayed away because an Irish gay group wasn’t also invited to march.

Dunleavy remained steadfast in his opposition to gay groups in the line of march and wasn’t shy about saying so after this year’s parade. He planned to run for another term as chairman this year on a platform of barring gay groups, a point he made clear on a video posted to the parade’s Facebook page which has since been removed.

Lahey has served as vice chair of the parade committee for years, and is also responsible for securing media and sponsorship deals. The board met in April of this year and Lahey stated his belief, with the backing of parade sponsors, that a second gay group would need to be included in next year’s march. Lahey detailed his thoughts in a subsequent letter to Dunleavy which was reported by the Irish Voice last month, and said he would be resign his position if a majority of board members disagreed with his position.

“As we discussed at our recent meeting, I made some decisions with our advertisers’ input for the 2015 parade broadcast with which you and some other directors strongly disagree,” Lahey wrote to Dunleavy.

“I don’t think it is a good thing for us to repeat this inconsistency in 2016, and whoever is chairman of TV and media for the 2016 parade needs the full support and clear direction from the Board of Directors.”

The board was due to reconvene in September, but decided to schedule a phone conference for Tuesday, June 30 to settle the issue because Dunleavy has been trying to shape parade policy even though he has no legal authority to do so in his position as chairman of the board’s parade committee.

All 16 members of the board were informed in advance of Tuesday’s call. Thirteen participated and there was one caller who did not identify him/herself.

The first vote taken by the board during the call was to authorize the addition of a second gay group in next year’s march. After “a good debate,” said a source, the vote was 10-0 in favor, with three abstentions.

The next vote was to elect new officers of the board. Lahey was elected chairman and businessman John Fitzsimons was named as vice chair by a 12-0 vote; one board member dropped off the call after the vote on a new gay group.

The board is empowered by its bylaws and its status as a non-profit to undertake all decisions with regard to the parade – including the addition of gay groups, sponsorship, TV rights and any other issue. Lahey and Fitzsimons are now the sole representatives who can speak on behalf of the parade.

The Facebook posting on the parade’s page yesterday stating that media reports were inaccurate about Dunleavy’s role going forward is true or false, depending on interpretation. Dunleavy does retain his title of parade committee chair – the committee that operates under the board -- but cannot speak on behalf of the parade or institute any policy as he has done for his 22 years as chairman.

As a press release issued Wednesday on behalf of the board made clear, Dunleavy is solely “responsible for organizing the affiliated organizations marching in the parade March 17.” His thoughts on the inclusion of gay groups, or any other parade matter, are purely his own and not representative of the board.

Note From the Parade Committee:Recently, there has been news in the media about the leadership of the New York City...

Posted by NYC St. Patrick's Day Parade, Inc. on Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Facebook statement on a “change in leadership” is false, say the new leadership. The leadership has been formalized thanks to Tuesday’s vote, and the board has assumed its legal place as sole overseer of parade policy.

“This had to get settled,” an informed source told the Irish Voice. “John Dunleavy can call himself chairman or president or whatever he wants. But he doesn’t get to decide who’s in and who’s out of the parade.”