The Republic of Ireland’s Prime Minister Enda Kenny praised the Northern Irish police force for marching in New York's St. Patrick's Day parade for the first time ever and defended his own decision to march on Monday afternoon.
"This is St. Patrick's Day, the 17th of March 2014, 180,000 people will march in New York today, many of them are gay people and they march proudly in the St. Patrick's Day parade, as I do myself," he said.
The parade was a momentous occasion as members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) marched alongside their Republic of Ireland colleagues An Garda Siochana. Speaking at Gracie Mansion at the mayor’s breakfast Mr Kenny addressed a crowd, which included Mayor Bill De Blasio and leaders of the Irish American community.
“We have moved on from blockages of the past to open doors for the future. I am very happy to see this in New York City this week with members of the PSNI and An Garda Siochana joining forces.”
He addressed Mayor De Blasio adding, “Things have changed in our country in the last period. In times of great difficulty in Ireland we have moved to a point where there is exceptional high levels of cooperation between the two police forces in the vested interest of the protection of the citizens of our country; north and south of the border.”
The Prime Minister commended Supt Gerry Murray and Supt Doyle for their contributions as well as their representatives.
It had been feared that there would be clashes amongst marchers as the PSNI marched with dissident republicans at the parade but the march passed off peacefully with a small number of protesters in attendance.
All eyes were on Enda Kenny who defended his decision to march despite a small protest of about 50 gay rights campaigners waving banners and placards as the parade passed along Fifth Avenue.
Outside the offices of Consulate General of Ireland, Mr Kenny acknowledged the symbol of the white between the green and orange on the Irish flag saying, “I think it’s symbolic to what is going on here today with the PSNI and members of the Gardai.
“I know the PSNI officers and the gardai here today are very proud of the fact that they can come together like this as an example of how Ireland has moved on.”
Reiterating the Prime Minister's message was PSNI Chief Inspector Sue Steen, who had traveled with six of her colleagues to march in the NY parade.
“For us it’s a huge honor and privilege to be here. There’s a delegation of seven of us that made the trip over.
“We were all selected as we participated in the World Police and Fire Games and we're absolutely delighted to be here. It’s a fantastic honor for us and for the country as well.”
The Chief Inspector further added, “Our hopes for the day are to represent our organization, our country and to show people the unity because we are walking with our An Garda Siochana colleagues. To show a public display of the close links between the two different police forces and between the two countries, we are happy to be able to demonstrate that.”
Immigration was another hot topic at this year’s St Patrick’s Day parade, as Mayor De Blasio alluded to growing up in a rich Irish heritage and culture. “In this city of immigrants, we never forget where we come from.
“Our Irish American roots are so strong. The resiliency of New York is in no small measure due to the fact that the Irish people share this resilience of those who live here.”
Kenny was also questioned by reporters on immigration to which he responded, “Clearly immigration is an issue. Obviously we want to take our people out of the shadows and have them be able to contribute fully, pay their way, and play their part in the building of this great city and great country.
“That’s what they want to do and hopefully legislators in Washington, DC will make real progress and conclude talks before elections in November.”
When asked about the small number of protesters on Fifth Avenue from the LGBT community he responded, “Many of the people in the parade today are also members of the gay community and they are marching proudly.
"I've been invited here. I think it's a real opportunity to continue to express the solidarity that we have with Irish America."
The Prime Minister stood firm on his decision to march saying, “This is Ireland’s day all over the world and not just in New York or America, but all over the world. March 17th is Ireland’s Day.”
Although St. Patrick’s Day celebrations have been controversial this year, there was no doubting what it means to be Irish in New York as thousands of people lined Fifth Avenue in freezing temperatures to celebrate their Irish identity.