Irish President Mary McAleese has turned down an invitation to be grand marshal of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade in 2011, the historic 250th anniversary of the event.
The turn down is said to be connected to the issue of gays being refused the right to march in the parade under their own banners, and McAleese’s strong relationship with gay and lesbian organizations in Ireland.
As she will also be in the last year of her term in 2011, officials in the president’s office were reluctant to become embroiled in a major controversy about her taking part in the parade which has excluded gay organizations for over 20 years.
Efforts at a compromise where President McAleese could attend the gay-organized, all-inclusive St. Patrick’s parade in Queens on the weekend before March 17, and then march in the actual Fifth Avenue parade the Thursday following, also failed because the president could not remain in New York for such a long period of time.
Marching in the Queens parade as well as the Fifth Avenue one also has been the way most major U.S. politicians, such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have handled the issue in recent years.
McAleese’s refusal to accept the grand marshal invite will come as major blow to parade officials who were intent on making the day an historic showcase. New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York is now being considered a likely replacement.
Despite a reputation as a conservative Catholic when she took office, McAleese has become a firm advocate for marginalized groups in Irish societies including gay groups.
She is very popular with such groups and was risking putting one of the signature accomplishments of her presidency at risk if she accepted the New York invite to lead the parade.
“This was a no win for McAleese,” said one official.
“Becoming embroiled in a huge controversy on Fifth Avenue on St. Patrick’s Day with gay groups protesting her presence is not what her legacy is all about.”