Dr. John Lahey, the chairman of NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Inc., the legal corporation responsible for the parade, has forcefully hit back at critics who charge that he and members of the corporation’s board are attempting to secularize the march and erase the influence of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the parade’s affiliated organizations. 

In an interview with the Irish Voice, Lahey said the parade will always remain first and foremost a celebration of the life of St. Patrick – a point contained in Article 1 of the board’s bylaws – and any attempt to overturn that would occur “over my dead body. It is not and will never be up for discussion,” he said.

Lahey also had a strong message for the AOH and the 170 organizations affiliated with the St. Patrick’s Day parade: There are no underhanded attempts underway to lessen their influence on the parade in any way, and a campaign by supporters of current Parade and Celebration Committee Chairman John Dunleavy to overturn recent board decisions is being fueled by lies and inaccuracies.

“There is quite a bit of misinformation out there. I am saddened. The information being circulated is plain wrong,” Lahey said.

Rumors that the board is attempting to nix the requirement that at least two of its members are members of the AOH, and one female a member of the LAOH, are also false, Lahey said.

“That is not going to change. In fact I would like to see gender equality and have it that two female board members must also be members of the LAOH,” he added.

On Tuesday afternoon, Dunleavy’s attorney Francis Young went to Bronx Supreme Court to seek a temporary restraining order against a scheduled meeting of the board of NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Inc. on Thursday, October 29 at the Metropolitan Club. The request was postponed until Thursday's morning because Young failed to file the necessary electronic paperwork on time.

Lahey told the Irish Voice that Thursday’s meeting was called to streamline the board and its St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Celebration Committee into a single cohesive unit. A proposed new Executive Committee would be authorized to take actions on behalf of the full board, a power that the Parade and Celebration Committee currently does not have.

The proposed change in board bylaws up for a vote on Thursday will, if passed by a majority of the 17 members, achieve a number of objectives, Lahey said.

Up for vote is the following: The elimination of the Parade and Celebration Committee and its chairman and vice chairman, posts currently held by Dunleavy and Lahey, respectively, in favor of two new administrative positions that the board will appoint, that of chief administrative officer and chief financial officer.

Lahey has recommended two long-time board members and parade leaders for those posts: Hilary Beirne, the current executive secretary, for administrative officer, and Francis McGreal, Jr., current treasurer, as financial officer. Beirne and McGreal would be in charge of running the day to day aspects of the parade, including march formation, working with the affiliated organizations and coordinating with volunteers.

Several board members have told Lahey that the way the parade is currently constituted under its Article 3 is unwieldy, with Lahey serving as both chairman of the board and vice chair of the Parade and Celebration Committee, and Dunleavy as chairman.

“No board needs two chairmen and a vice chairman who is also chairman,” said Lahey, the President of Quinnipiac University in Connecticut who was grand marshal of the parade in 1997.

The possible deletion of the Parade and Celebration Committee has angered Dunleavy and his supporters because it effectively would remove Dunleavy from any role in managing the parade. The native of Co. Westmeath, who has been involved with the parade for decades, would still be a member of the board with a vote, but his demotion in the parade hierarchy was deemed necessary by a majority of board members in June because of his continued anti-gay marching group rhetoric which prompted boycotts, sponsor withdrawals and negative publicity in years past.

The parade’s affiliated organizations, including the AOH, Emerald Societies and county groups, are not being disenfranchised or marginalized in any way and will never be, Lahey says. If Thursday’s board meeting approves the changes, Beirne and McGreal will immediately call a meeting of all affiliated organizations, with Lahey also planning to take part.

“There is no move whatsoever against the affiliated organizations. None at all. It is a total lie,” Lahey said.

The organizations, Lahey added, are key to the success of the parade, but the formal role in leadership they actually have consists solely of voting for the Parade and Celebration Committee chairman and vice chairman every two years – with Dunleavy and Lahey being the only candidates for those posts for the past 20 years.

“What happens is that the Parade and Celebration Committee chairman and vice chairman are selected by the board, and the affiliated organizations then vote on these two candidates. There has never been a choice for them. For the past 20 years it’s been myself and John. So the idea that the organizations had great authority in the first place is false,” said Lahey.

“The voting process was kind of like the old Soviet Union. There was no choice of candidates to pick from. So believe me, we are not trying to end some great democracy here.”

A number of board members and many financial backers of the parade are distressed by how Dunleavy has behaved as the public face of the event, particularly after this year’s march when he recorded a video on the parade’s Facebook page and claimed that gay groups would “have a hard time” marching in next year’s parade – even though the LGBT contingent in this year’s event, OUT@NBCUniversal, was widely accepted for being the first gay group to take part in the march.

Dunleavy also took it upon himself to offer 2016 parade broadcast rights to other networks in retaliation for current broadcaster WNBC being part of the deal that secured the participation of OUT@NBCUniversal.

A meeting of the board of NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Inc. in late June, which Dunleavy claims he received late notice of and couldn’t attend because he was in Ireland, installed Lahey and John Fitzsimons as chairman and vice chairman of the board with sole authority to speak and act on behalf of the parade.

Dunleavy’s anger at WNBC, Lahey says, is ironic given that September’s board renewal of the network’s broadcast rights is identical to the deal that Dunleavy has approved for years. Dunleavy’s insistence that WPIX offered a free deal for next year’s broadcast is also false, Lahey added – confirming a report in the Irish Voice in which a high ranking WPIX denied that an offer was ever made.

“There is nothing free. We had a written, detailed contract from WNBC. John was not able to produce anything in writing from WPIX, and that is a fact,” says Lahey.

“The notion that I on my own would turn down a free deal is just not rooted in reality.”

The WNBC deal requires the parade board to pay the network a fee of $175,000 upfront. The board also hires a production company at a cost of roughly $200,000, but last year’s advertising sales, buoyed by the admittance of OUT@NBCUniversal in the line of march, came in at $450,000, resulting in a profit of $75,000 for the parade.

“And I’m expecting a bigger approval from advertisers given that next year we will have a second gay marching group,” said Lahey, referring to the Irish Lavender and Green Alliance that will join the march for the first time.

Thursday’s meeting at the Metropolitan Club will be open to only the 17 members of the board. A meeting in September was disrupted by several Dunleavy supporters who refused to leave the New York Athletic Club, prompting the meeting to be moved to the Metropolitan Club.

At that meeting, a board member, Michael Cassels, was removed for misappropriating parade funds for personal use – bills that were approved by Dunleavy. A forensic audit of parade finances requested by Lahey also called into question several of Dunleavy’s expenditures, including charges for trips to Washington, D.C., Myrtle Beach and various medical costs.