Dr. John Lahey, the vice chairman of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, told the Irish Voice in an interview on Tuesday afternoon that the 2015 line of march will not accept new entrants from any groups, including Irish gay groups, marching bands or right to life organizations.
“I’d like to clear that up. We’re not going to consider any other application from any group for 2015. Groups are absolutely free to apply, we can’t stop that, but we’ll definitely consider new applications for 2016,” Lahey, president of Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, told the Irish Voice.
“What we want to do is keep 2015 focused on the gesture of goodwill we made towards the gay community with the inclusion of [email protected] And we really want to focus on the most important thing, which is the celebration of our Irish heritage with Cardinal Dolan as our grand marshal.”
Lahey, who served as parade grand marshal in 1997, reacted enthusiastically when told that the Irish gay groups St. Pat’s for All and Lavender and Green Alliance, helmed by long-time activist Brendan Fay, wished to work with the Parade Committee to build bridges for future marches – a development reported by Cahir O’Doherty in this week’s Irish Voice.
But Lahey emphasized again that there would be no room for any additional marching contingents for 2015.
“I think that’s great. It’s terrific to hear talk of compromise and working together,” Lahey said of Fay’s wish to build bridges. “I think Brendan Fay will find that we’re very receptive. I hope he is interpreting the inclusion of [email protected] next year as the goodwill gesture that it is.”
Lahey said the parade is under extreme pressure from New York City officials to keep the march to a maximum of six hours, which makes the acceptance of any new groups difficult. “It’s something that we simply have to be very aware of,” he said.
The invite to [email protected] -- the NBC network is the home of the live parade broadcast – was unanimously accepted by the Parade Committee, Lahey stressed. He added that the long-time committee chairman John Dunleavy was “100 percent” on board, and even met with the chairman of [email protected] prior to the group’s admittance in the march.
“John has led the committee every step of the way,” Lahey said, responding to reports in the Irish Voice that Dunleavy was reluctant to approve a gay group in the march – a position he has maintained for several years.
“John brought the compromise to the committee and it was unanimously approved. He has been a total leader.”
The parade, Lahey says, has never discriminated against gay participation, but he acknowledges the perception is different. He also says he’s “delighted” that the NBC gay group will be the first ever to join the march.
“It’s obviously been difficult dealing with this issue for some 20 years. As a university president I value diversity of all kinds. I’ve always said that the parade never discriminated, but we weren’t able to prove that without a gay and lesbian group marching with a banner. It took a little while, but we are very happy with the outcome of including NBC.”
The gay banner issue, Lahey maintains, divided not only the Irish American community but also a host of other interested parties, including the Irish government – Joan Bruton, a visiting minister, refused to take part last year.
“I think it was a very divisive issue,” Lahey acknowledged. “It divided people who love the parade which did no one any good. This compromise can bring us all together again.”
Lahey also dismissed the notion that a right to life group will take part in the 2015 march, a possibility floated last week by Bill Donohue, president of the conservative Catholic League who has long fought against the inclusion of an identifiable gay group in the parade.
“That won’t be happening. As I said, the parade won’t be accepting new applications for any new groups in 2015, but 2016 is a different story,” Lahey said.
As far as renewed sponsor participation for the 2015 parade, Lahey is optimistic. Guinness and Heineken, two main sponsors, withdrew from last year’s march.
“I haven’t been in touch with sponsors yet, but I believe the actions we’ve taken will be well received,” Lahey said.