Supporters of John Dunleavy, the Chairman of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, are planning to mount a legal challenge to the parade’s new chain of command which was solidified after a board meeting on June 30 that saw Quinnipiac University President Dr. John Lahey named as Chairman of the Board of NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Inc. That is the body which is legally empowered to oversee the committee and undertake all actions on behalf of the annual March 17 event.
On Tuesday, August 18, Dunleavy and his supporters on the committee called a meeting at Antun’s in Queens Village to give an update from their perspective on the changes in parade leadership, which Dunleavy called “very disingenuous, dishonest and not above board, and in all probability illegal.”
The move by Lahey and the board to include a second gay group next year was prompted in part by “Irish government diplomats,” Dunleavy claims.
Supporters of gay inclusion, he feels, will keep demanding more. “Next thing you know they’ll want a gay aide to the grand marshal, then a few years down the line they’ll want a gay grand marshal. Where do you end? You either cut them off at the pass and say this far, no further.”
Dunleavy spoke of gay parades on Fifth Avenue in the early 1990s, “and I wouldn’t want to express what I saw them doing on trucks,” he said. “Before that, in 1990, ACT UP went into St. Patrick’s. I was there. They went up to receive Communion and threw it on the floor…that leaves you very reluctant to openly let them in the parade.”
However, Lahey told the Irish Voice on Monday that while he retains the utmost respect for Dunleavy and his decades of work on the parade, the changes approved by the board in June are unequivocally legally binding, and NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Inc. is moving forward with plans for next year’s march that will both celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, and welcome a second gay group to the line of march. (See separate interview with Lahey tomorrow.)
The meeting at Antun’s was attended by approximately 50 members of the 180 affiliated parade organizations. The Irish Voice obtained an audio recording of the nearly 90 minute meeting, the highlights of which include:
*Dunleavy’s retention of an attorney, who sent a letter to Lahey threatening legal action over Dunleavy’s diminished role in the parade;
*The creation of a letter writing campaign by Dunleavy supporters aimed at Lahey and members of the parade’s board, parade broadcast network WNBC and the Irish government, in a bid to restore Dunleavy’s power;
*Dunleavy’s insistence on granting parade broadcast rights to WPIX Channel 11 in retaliation for WNBC’s brokering a compromise this year that paved the way for the first openly gay group to take part in the march, and for featuring the group in this year’s broadcast;
*Dunleavy’s fury at the board’s decision to grant access to a second gay group in next year’s line of march;
*The Irish government and its representatives in New York called out as “conniving” and “interfering”;
*Pleas for a boycott of Irish Voice advertisers by Dunleavy because of the paper’s “garbage” coverage of recent parade happenings.
Dunleavy opened the Antun’s gathering by telling those assembled that he traveled to England to visit two ill sisters, and was unable to attend the board meeting on June 30 – even though some participants were also away and used a phone call-in.
The June meeting was called in advance of a previously scheduled September meeting because Dunleavy had been negotiating with WPIX and Fox Channel 5 to broadcast the parade instead of WNBC, even though Lahey has always been responsible in his position as committee vice chair for media and sponsorship deals. Dunleavy also said in a video posted on the parade’s official Facebook page that gay groups “would have a problem” taking part in next year’s march.
“At a previous board meeting I indicated that the parade is not in the business of promoting any lifestyle: Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, gay, straight,” Dunleavy said at Antun’s.
“A gay group from NBC marched in 2015 and NBC put together a five minute program promoting the group during the first hour of the television coverage. [Board member and NBC executive Frank] Comerford and Lahey did not have the courtesy to let me know this … and I let them know I was unhappy with this decision.”
Dunleavy claimed he received an offer from WPIX to broadcast the parade next year with no out of pocket costs to the board, as opposed to the WNBC deal which requires the outlay of $400,000. WPIX, Dunleavy claimed, would secure all the sponsorship and the parade would have netted 20 percent of everything over $400,000 – and, he added, the parade would be inoculated against sponsors withdrawing over the lack of a gay group in the line of march.
In its existing contract with the parade board, WNBC has the right of first refusal, “and that alerted them to [WPIX]…then they had to make a move to remove me from the parade,” said Dunleavy, giving his interpretation of what prompted the June 30 board meeting.
In a question and answer session, Dunleavy said he had “no problem” with OUT@NBCUniversal, the gay group that marched in this year’s parade. “But to add more onto it because of the connivings of the Irish government pushing them, absolutely no way,” he added. Again, speaking of OUT@NBCUniversal, Dunleavy described the group as a “very decent group, a nice group, very respectful…[but] to bring more of those characters in that just want to shove it in your face…in my books anyway, as long as I’m there I’m not going to accept it.”
Going forward, “we have a lot of things to do,” Dunleavy told his supporters. “We have engaged a lawyer and he has written a letter to John Lahey. We have had no response.”
Dunleavy said one legal firm he contacted thought he had an “excellent case” against the board, but “it would cost $150,000 and $75,000 up front. This is where I’m at. I’m not going to put up my own personal money. A lawyer [Francis Young of White Plains] will do it pro bono up to a certain point.”
The 78-year-old native of Co. Westmeath, who has chaired the parade committee for 22 years and worked on the parade in other capacities for 44 years, urged his supporters to “invade” Lahey’s Quinnipiac University with letters, “and NBC, [board vice chairman John] Fitzsimons…indicating your displeasure at the actions taken against this parade.
“And if anyone wants to write a letter to the prime minister [in Ireland], what’s his name again?” Dunleavy said to laughter. He again criticized the Irish government for “interfering” in the 1983 parade which had IRA supporter Michael Flannery as grand marshal.
Due to the Irish government’s insistence, Dunleavy claimed, “Cardinal Cooke closed the doors of the cathedral, he was not on the steps when Mike Flannery passed. Some years later Cardinal O’Connor at St. Patrick’s had Mike stand up and apologized to him from the altar and 3,000 people gave Mike a standing ovation…Irish government officials sitting there didn’t know what to do. They were embarrassed and they should be bloody well embarrassed,” Dunleavy said.
Dunleavy lamented that his parade-related credit cards and spending authority were taken away after the June board meeting. “Treating me like a criminal in my view is very insulting after 44 years of dedicated service to the parade. As far as they’re concerned I’m a nobody in the parade,” he added, stating that when he became chairman the parade’s finances were in a mess, until he cleaned them up.
Dunleavy chided former grand marshals of the parade who are now board members for voting in favor of Lahey being named chairman of the board – “how quickly they forget,” he said of his role in making them grand marshals – and also singled out long-time parade committee executive secretary Hilary Beirne for “turning his back on me.” He equated his opponents on the board to the “soupers” in the Irish Famine who denied their Catholicism in exchange for food.
Dunleavy said his intention is to seek election this November for another two-year term as parade committee chairman, and then step down after next year’s march which will mark the Easter Rising commemoration.
“But they couldn’t wait that long because they wanted to bring another gay group into the parade,” Dunleavy said.
Criticizing the “junk” and “garbage” coverage of the parade in the Irish Voice and our website IrishCentral, Dunleavy ally and the parade’s sergeant-at-arms Mike Cassels said, “We don’t need to take much of [publisher] Niall O’Dowd’s garbage because that’s exactly what he’s printing, pure garbage. And it’s being fed to him by individuals that want to send this parade in a different way.”
Dunleavy urged those in the room to target Irish Voice advertisers. “That’s where you can be very, very effective,” he advised. “You can tell some of the advertisers there, you say, ‘You run ads in that paper and I’m not doing business with you anymore.’ That’s where you have the power.”
Dunleavy said he has an ally in the Irish Echo, which carries the parade line of march each year. “I haven’t gone to the press. I wouldn’t talk to O’Dowd…but we do have Ray O’Hanlon from the Irish Echo,” he said. “I talked to Ray and said, ‘At the appropriate time I will talk to you, Ray.’”
Dunleavy says it “hasn’t been a good summer,” but he’s prepared to carry on.
“I’ve been through a number of different battles. The parade doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to all of you. The day you let anybody take that away from you, shame on us.”