Dear Taoiseach Kenny,
If you commissioned the top 10 advertising agencies in Manhattan to create a campaign calculated to do the most violence to Ireland’s international reputation, you couldn’t do a more destructive job that New York and Boston’s own St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committees.
Just ask Guinness, Ireland’s own iconic stout makers, because yesterday they cancelled their participating sponsorship of the New York parade. That leaves no major beer company willing to touch a Saint Patrick’s Day parade.
Across digital media platforms and the traditional press a horrifying public relations tsunami has swept its way this year, carrying off years of expensive tourism and economics spending in its wake.
We have spent decades promoting ourselves abroad as highly skilled and impressively educated, but that is not what the world sees today.
Today in New York and Boston, capitals of commerce and gateways to America, we’re seen as mean spirited, hostile, holier than thou homophobes who happen to live in the same cities as two of the largest and most influential gay community’s on the globe.
In New York and Boston the Mayors are staying away from the parade, so are hundreds of city councilors, state legislators, elected officials, US representatives and state senators and even gubernatorial hopefuls.
On the east coast the Irish have become political kryptonite. How will NBC, a progressive network who broadcast the parade, be able to justify their participation next year when other stations like Clear Channel and CBS have already bailed? You know we’ve crossed the Rubicon when even iconic Irish beer companies like Guinness are deserting ship.
We used to be smarter than this. The reason I’m writing to you today is that, as you look out over your now traditional St. Patrick’s Day Public Relations nightmare on Fifth Avenue, I hope you will acknowledge that the time to end this snowballing eyesore has arrived.
Growing up in Ireland I observed that Irish political parties rarely lead, instead they manage. More precisely, they contain. They have learned that as long as there are football or rugby match results to cheer us, and the price of a pint within reach, the tumbrels will not roll toward the guillotines.
That is why the defensive crouch is a more familiar aspect of Irish political life than the expansive gesture. Nevertheless, the time for expansiveness has arrived.
To explain your participation in the New York march this year, you have said the parade is not about sexuality. That is correct in one sense, it is certainly not about your sexuality, but most assuredly it is about others. This is no time for fig leafs.
The truth is that the St. Patrick’s Day Parade fiasco has endured as long it has because a small cadre lead by a padre (one of the older archetypes of Irish power) have refused to acknowledge any reality other than their own.
Since they could not beat the gay Irish groups who wanted to march on the merits, they went to court to prevent them in the only way that was left: by diminishing the parade itself, by narrowing who it represents through force of law.
To their enduring shame the parade committee went to the US Supreme Court to codify that Irish LGBT people were not true Irish people, but a suspect class, menaced and marked by whatever means the parade committee determined, which were of course legally insuperable: no gay Irish need apply.
Not enough has been written or said about that shocking court ordered diminishment, how it upended the parades history, or about the damage those newly imposed limitations have done and are still doing.
I was reminded of this fact at the weekend when yet another reactionary, quickly pulled statement from the parade committee attempted to disinvite the participation of six members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
“The people of New York City have supported our parade for many generations,” the parade committee wrote on Facebook. “While the decision to invite the PSNI was made in an effort to foster peace, we must stand behind those who help make our parade the greatest in the world. Therefore we have rescinded the invitation and the PSNI will not march in the New York City Saint Patrick's Day Parade.”
It’s a law of Irish politics: never take the high ground if the low ground looks more traveled. But Irish leadership, which included Gerry Adams and it’s rumored you yourself, strongly asked the committee to reconsider until cooler heads prevailed.
Taoiseach Kenny, you gave a landmark speech on Catholic Church’s decades long attempts to frustrate the sovereignty of Ireland. So you will know that you are watching yet another attempt by the church to uphold ‘the primacy of the institution, its power, its standing and its 'reputation’ even at the expense of Ireland itself.’
The parade committee and the Archbishop behind the curtain have shown themselves to be mired in a narrow and intolerant past that the wider nation and Ireland itself have long since left behind.
I appeal to you to use your influence, which I know is considerable, to remind the parade committee at every turn how harshly American history judges the discriminatory.
They may not care, but you have Ireland to think of.