New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will, for the first time ever, march in this year’s New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade, the Irish Voice has learned.

The mayor, who refused to take part in the parade in prior years due to the exclusion of gay Irish groups walking behind an identifying banner, will likely march up Fifth Avenue twice on March 17. He will join a group that has yet to be determined at the front of the march – traditionally, the mayor has marched with the NYPD -- and return later in the day to support the Irish gay group Lavender and Green Alliance which will march in the parade for the first time at approximately 4 p.m.

The New York City Council is also expected to have a large contingent marching behind its banner in 2016. For the past two years the council has declined to take part in the parade in an official capacity at the direction of City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito, also because Irish gay groups were barred from marching.

The decision by the parade board of directors last September to lift the decades-old, highly controversial ban on a gay Irish marching group has been more than welcome, according to Brendan Fay, the co-founder of Lavender and Green Alliance which also hosts the annual St. Pat’s for All parade on the first Sunday of March in Sunnyside-Woodside.

Lavender and Green sent invitations to de Blasio to take part in St. Pat’s for All on March 6, and to march with the group when it sets off up Fifth Avenue for the first time on March 17.

Fay is expecting de Blasio, members of the City Council and other New York politicians to march in this year’s St. Pat’s for All parade as they always do. This year, St. Pat’s for All will feature two grand marshals, philanthropist Loretta Brennan Glucksman and novelist Colum McCann.

“We have had tremendous interest from everyone since it was announced last year that we would be marching on Fifth Avenue,” Fay told the Irish Voice. He added that Lavender and Green have also extended an invitation to march on the 17th to former Mayor David Dinkins, an ardent supporter of lifting the ban on gay groups since he was in office in the 1990s.

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A spokesperson for de Blasio’s office would not comment on Tuesday afternoon, saying the mayor’s parade plans would be released closer to March 17. A parade spokesperson also said plans have not been finalized and declined comment, and Fay said he hasn’t received word from the mayor’s office.

In 2014, de Blasio became the first New York mayor since Dinkins in 1992 to boycott the parade. Dinkins had marched in the 1991 parade with members of the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization (ILGO) who were invited to walk behind the banner of the Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 7 and received a brutal reception from parade-goers, some of whom threw beer cans at Dinkins and the ILGO members.

After that, Dinkins declined to march for the remaining two years of his term because ILGO was refused a place with its own banner.

Republican mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg marched in subsequent years despite annual protests on the sidelines of Fifth Avenue by gay groups. Democrat de Blasio, however, touched off a renewed focus on the ban in 2014 when he declined to march and a number of parade sponsors subsequently withdrew financial support, including Guinness and Heineken.

In 2015, parade organizers shelved the ban on gay groups when OUT@NBCUniversal, the LGBT support group of parade broadcast network NBC, was given a place in the line of march – a move that was approved by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who agreed to serve as grand marshal for 2015.

De Blasio, however, along with the City Council, remained steadfast in refusing to march until an Irish gay group was given the green light to walk up Fifth Avenue. That happened last September when the Lavender and Green Alliance headed by Fay and Kathleen Walsh D’Arcy was finally given permission to take part in the parade which since last June has been under the leadership of board chairman Dr. John Lahey.

The former chairman of the board’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Celebration Committee, John Dunleavy, was a strident opponent of gay marching groups, and in a Facebook post last April vowed that gay groups would “have a hard time” gaining entrance to this year’s line of march.

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