Irish president Mary McAleese has taken the politically courageous step in refusing an invitation to be Grand Marshal of the 250th St.Patrick’s Day parade in New York.
By so doing she has sent a sharp message to parade organizers that discrimination in any guise is not what her presidency is all about and should not be what the parade is all about either.
The parade committee must fear that this issue is like a millstone around their neck. Each time it appears to have faded as an issue some new controversy reignites it.
We have long argued that the refusal to even enter into dialogue with the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization was a major mistake for the parade committee.
It was akin in some strange way to the refusal of Orange leaders in Northern Ireland to enter into discussions with nationalist residents in Drumcree which led to such mayhem for many years in Northern Ireland.
In the end the Orange paraders lost in the court of public opinion , devastatingly so, and the message from the president of Ireland is that the New York parade committee has lost out too.
Such issues are by no means one sided. The Irish gay organizations often presented in such militant fashion that it made it more difficult than it should have been to open negotiations.
In later years also, groups that had no Irish affiliation joined the St. Patrick’s Parade protests and it became an issue far more about Gays versus the Catholic church than any Irish controversy.
But it is true to say that many attempts at mediation always foundered on the rock of the parade hardliners who saw it as their God-given duty to slam the door on any discussion rather than probe a compromise.
That same committee has now been handed a major blow with the McAleese decision, which will, no doubt go over well in Ireland where the parade recalcitrance on the gay issue has confounded people.
Back there they are used to seeing gays participate in all major parades as a celebration of Irish unity rather than divisiveness.
That is surely the way it should be, especially in the modern era where so much has been done by bringing marginalized groups into the mainstream.
An indication of how far that has come was given recently in an Irish Times poll which showed that two third of Irish people supported gay marriage.
The parade committee has been way out of step with modern Irish sensibility on this issue and this is now reflected in the McAleese decision which came as no shock to those who know her.
McAleese has made a major theme of her presidency a reach-out to the discriminated against in Irish life and she has surely shown a Christian compassion and concern towards them that is truly remarkable.
She was highly unlikely to end that policy and pick sides against gay Irish people in America as her acclaimed presidency reaches its final year.
She has made the right decision in our opinion though doubtless she will ship some criticism in the usual quarters.
Such people should look in the mirror first to see where the real blame lies.
Frankly, this is an issue that should have been resolved years ago.
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