John Dunleavy, chairman of the New York St. Patrick's Day Parade committee. Photo by: Dominic Totino

Excluding gays proving disastrous for business for St.Patrick’s parades


John Dunleavy, chairman of the New York St. Patrick's Day Parade committee. Photo by: Dominic Totino

The withdrawal by Sam Adams beer from the Boston parade sponsorship and by Heineken from the New York one sends an unmistakable message. Westin Hotels and Gillette have also stepped back from Boston.

Unless the gays-in-the-parade issue is resolved next year there will be a barrage of such boycotts by major consumer organizations.

Ford Motor Company is still in the New York parade, but were forced to explain their position in a long letter to CNBC. GLAAD, the gay and lesbian lobby group, is believed to be targeting other advertisers as well.

NBC, which covers the parade and provides much of the revenue, will be an obvious target for a boycott as will every front-line advertiser on their parade program.

The news is especially bad in New York fro the parade committee there. There is a hostile mayor and City Council who can put major obstacles in the way of the parade committee next year on issues such as permits, police services and length of parade. Sources tell IrishCentral that is already being planned.

Squeezed between a deeply unsympathetic mayor and a hostile advertising and sponsorship environment the parade will likely be badly damaged. It is only in recent years that it has reached financial solvency.

Boston is in better shape, having come very close to the bones of an agreement. Mayor Marty Walsh, unlike de Blasio, has worked tirelessly to make it happen and if not this year then next seems a definite probability.

“It’s going to happen in my first term,” he told the Boston Globe.

New York is a long ways from settlement. The furor over the PSNI, the Northern Ireland police, walking in the parade is just the latest issue which was very badly handled and should never have got traction.

If the parade committee cannot stand up to the pressure from a tiny dissident IRA supporters group and stand by the Good Friday Agreement, then you have to seriously wonder if they are capable of solving any issue.

Some clear realities must emerge if the New York parade is to avoid disaster. 

The parade was never intended as an exclusively Irish Catholic parade when it first started. It was a celebration of Irish heritage, pure and simple. The parade needs to get back to its roots.

The church should also be seen to step back from overtly direct involvement. I have it on very good authority that about a dozen years ago the New York cardinal was given veto power over the selection of Grand Marshal.

That is unacceptable and utterly unnecessary. I also have it on good authority that the current Cardinal, Timothy Dolan, was deeply against any accommodation on this year’s parade when Irish government intermediaries sought a settlement.

The Archdiocese will deny any involvement either historically or in the present day, but the facts are that former grand Marshal Congressman Peter King talked about a direct intervention by Cardinal O’Connor when he was elected, warning him not to discuss his Sinn Fein sympathies. There have been several other interventions since.

The parade chairman John Dunleavy has long talked about the close association with the church and how Catholic the parade is.

It is possible to feel sympathy with Dunleavy, who has secured the finances of the parade and cleaned up much of the bad drinking image around it, but he seems unable to comprehend just how quickly the landscape is changing.

Even within the Catholic ethos the world has changed. Pope Francis said “Who am I to judge” when asked about the gay lifestyle. Right there is the perfect way to construct a Fifth Avenue solution, based on those words.

There is only one winner in this debate, whether Dunleavy likes it or not, and finding a way to accommodate that has to be the key action before next year if his beloved parade is not to be deeply damaged.

The blame does not all lie with the parade committees in Boston or New York. 

The failure of the Mass Equity group to grasp the peace offering in Boston and march under their own banner was also a major mistake on the other side.

No solution is 100 percent effective and Mayor Marty Walsh, unlike de Blasio, made a magnificent effort to bridge the gap between both sides. He won the group permission to take part, but they inexplicably demanded total victory where a decisive win was on offer and should have been enough.

The LGBT community in New York is not without blemish. As Irish Voice editor Debbie McGoldrick has pointed out, there is not a 12-month functioning Irish gay organization to apply for permission to march other than de facto groups who come together to test the parade’s mettle.

One possible exception to that is the St. Pats for All parade in Queens run by Brendan Fay, who has become a voice of reason on this issue and has a long history of working with Irish organizations across several different fields.

The roadmap involving Fay and the Committee in a negotiated solution is there. The question is –  is the parade committee adroit enough to grasp it and bring this long running saga to an end?

The answer to that question will decide the future of the New York parade.    


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