John Dunleavy, former chairman of the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Celebration Committee who ran the march for 22 years before he was demoted last June, denounced the current leadership as dishonest back-stabbers at a meeting of the parade’s affiliated organizations last Thursday evening at Cathedral High School in Manhattan to discuss this year’s march and how the affiliates want to proceed in the future.

The well-attended event was called by John Tully, who replaced Dunleavy as committee chair last November along with a new slate of officers who remain at odds with the parade’s overseeing board of directors headed by Dr. John Lahey, president of Quinnipiac University. The board organized this year’s parade, and the leadership issue will be hashed out in Bronx Supreme Court on Thursday, May 26, when a lawsuit brought by Dunleavy against Lahey and board member Frank Comerford of NBC is scheduled to be heard.

Dunleavy spoke at Thursday’s meeting for nearly 15 minutes, and expressed fury at being accused of misappropriating parade funds for personal expenses – a discovery made during a forensic audit of parade finances last year by the parade’s accounting firm.

“That’s a terrible thing to tell anybody or accuse anybody of without any verification,” said Dunleavy in his remarks which were given to the Irish Voice via audiotape from several sources.

“Let me tell you something, my family, my children that were born here, what a thing to do to anybody after 24 years of dedication to this St. Patrick’s Day parade. I never took a dime from nobody in my life and I have never intention of doing it and I never stole nothing from anybody.”

Last November the parade’s board of directors notified the New York State Attorney General’s office about the audit’s findings to comply with rules governing 501 (c) 3 non-profits in New York State. The office declined to pursue the matter.

Lahey attended the meeting not in his capacity as board chairman but rather as a representative of Quinnipiac, an affiliated organization of the parade. Also at the meeting was Frank McGreal, a long-time member of the parade leadership who was promoted to chief administrative officer at a board meeting last month.

Dunleavy gave a defiant and at times rambling speech in which he defended his 44 years of service to the parade, which he said included building up its finances which stood at $400 in the bank when he took over as chairman, cleaning up the selection of the grand marshal, working with the U.S. military and regularly protesting outside the British Consulate among other things.

“I see a lot of people around. They have a lot to say and I’ve asked them what 842 Third Avenue is,” said Dunleavy, referring to the consulate. “They couldn’t tell you where it is or what office is there. I’ll tell you what it is. I wore out a couple of pair of shoes walking up and down in front of it!”

Dunleavy, who has steadfastly opposed a gay group taking part in the parade, said he had planned on stepping down from his chairmanship of the board’s Parade and Celebration Committee after this year’s march, “but some people abused that situation,” he said.

“I am deeply disappointed that I’ve been stabbed in the back by so many people. I know there’s somebody back there, I know he has a tape recorder and what we are saying here tonight will appear in the paper tomorrow … you’re not dealing with totally honest people.”

Lahey, who sat towards the back of the room with McGreal (neither of whom spoke to the Irish Voice about the meeting or provided audio), defended his board’s actions and stressed that the parade would always be first and foremost in honor of St. Patrick, refuting claims that the board wants to secularize the march. McGreal listened as one attendee, Mike Cassels, said that his father, the late Frank McGreal Senior, who was also involved in the march, would be upset by the parade’s current state of affairs.

Cassels is a long-time Dunleavy loyalist and former member of the parade’s board of directors who was removed from the position last year after the forensic audit showed that he double-billed the parade for expenses. He reimbursed the parade for $1,752.86 at the September board meeting before his removal.

Cassels spoke for several minutes and called this year’s march “an atrocity.”

“Unfortunately I no longer have any kind of official part with the parade committee,” Cassels said. “This year I can say I was very proud not to have. Why? Formation. A disgrace.”

Cassels was criticized by some in the audience after he launched an attack on Hilary Beirne, the board member and executive secretary of the parade who has been involved with its organization for several years.

“This year the parade was a logistic nightmare, yet Mr. Beirne says he’s a logistic expert … I think a three-year-old has better grammar than Mr. Beirne. He still cannot even spell his name,” Cassels said before some in the crowd chided him for getting personal.

“It is personal. It’s the truth,” replied Cassels, who also criticized the St. Patrick’s Foundation founded in 2012 by Beirne and Sean Lane of JP Morgan to raise funds for the march, with the blessing and support of Dunleavy.

“The parade would not allow certain groups, certain individuals to be included, excluded. [The foundation] is very upset. That’s a shame…why is your parade being taken over or dictated by these certain organizations?” Cassels asked.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who marched in this year’s parade for the first time after the board approved the admission of an Irish gay group, the Lavender and Green Alliance, for the first time, came in for criticism from some of the attendees. “Take him out of City Hall. He’s is the number one Catholic bigot in the country…sooner we do it the better,” said one male.

Ed Foy of AOH Division 1 in Manhattan stood up and told Lahey that if he felt his “sensitivity training as president of Quinnipiac College (sic) that you cannot go against what you are teaching or what you may or may not believe in, we as Irish Catholics and the cardinal say that we are entitled to our beliefs. We do not want to have a Halloween party on Fifth Avenue. We celebrate our Catholicism.”

Many of those at the meeting expressed frustration at the coverage of the parade by WNBC, and the position of the county organizations in the line of march. One male denounced what he called the infiltration of “communism” and “secularism” in the parade, and read a piece that was handed out to delegates authored by Cardinal Timothy Dolan in March titled “Honoring St. Patrick.”

The meeting’s agenda sheet given to attendees called the board headed by Lahey “self-perpetuating.” The board, said the sheet, refused to allow the Parade and Celebration Committee headed by Tully to run this year’s march, instead handing the reins to Beirne and McGreal.

“In the interest of a peaceful 2016 parade, the committee chose not to challenge the board’s decision, but rather preserve all issues for resolution after the parade,” the sheet said.

Brendan Fay and Tarlach Mac Niallais of the Lavender and Green Alliance, now an affiliated marching group of the parade, attended the meeting. Both spoke and were warmly received, Fay told the Irish Voice.

“Lavender and Green Alliance appreciated being welcomed as an official affiliated group of the parade. We welcomed the opportunity to express ourselves,” Fay told the Irish Voice. (Both Fay and Mac Niallais addressed the attendees.)

“We gave thanks to the board and committee, but especially thanked the people in the Irish community, in particular the county organizations that extended a hand of welcome to us in the 2016 parade. I reminded people that we are their brothers and sisters, their sons and daughters. We are their family, and we are Irish.”

Fay said Lavender and Green looks forward to taking part in future marches. “There’s no going back now and we are very happy about that,” he added.

However, Fay and Mac Niallais were “taken aback” by some of the views expressed by the attendees.

“The personal attacks on Frank McGreal and Hilary Beirne were uncalled for, as was the remark implying that our inclusion in the parade was turning it into a Halloween party,” said Fay.

“It’s amazing because some people don’t realize that many of our members are Catholics. Our inclusion the parade was welcomed by Cardinal Dolan.

“The meeting,” Fay added, “was a reminder of how important it is for us to be visible in our community, to be out and open and to challenge prejudice.”

One representative of a county organization told the Irish Voice that the meeting was “well run by Mr. Tully, as he gave everybody the chance to talk,” and that the “chance for the affiliates to air their issues was very useful.”

“Most of us feel like it was Dunleavy’s time to go,” said the representative. “But there’s no denying the little guy in the parade, the groups, are feeling disenfranchised. I’m hopeful that all the sides can soon come to an agreement and we can all move on.”