An illustration of St. Patrick that appears on the online petition.
By Ray O’Hanlon
Members of organizations affiliated with the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade have launched a petition aimed at blocking changes to parade bylaws being proposed by the parade’s board of directors.
The board is set to meet in Manhattan later this week to vote on the proposals which would see the elimination of a group of bylaws that have been included in the parade’s official list of Articles since 2003.
The petitioners want to preserve the bylaws, the scrapping of which they say would eliminate the committee charged with running the parade and elected by the affiliated organizations, and replacing it with an “executive committee” selected exclusively by the board of directors headed by parade committee vice chairman, Dr. John Lahey.
Dr. Lahey is also chairman of the Parade Corporation, the parade’s legal arm.
“Further changes proposed by Dr. Lahey, and opposed by the members of the affiliated organizations, include removal of the acknowledgement that the parade is in honor of St. Patrick and the Archdiocese of New York and the requirements that members of the Parade Board must be of Irish Descent and Roman Catholic,” said a statement by the petition organizers.
By Tuesday morning the petition, launched at the weekend, had collected close to 1,900 signatures.
Added the statement from the petition organizers in part: “The 170 Affiliated Organizations of the St. Patrick’s Day parade cover the wide spectrum of New York’s Irish American Community from the County Associations, Civil Service Emerald Societies, Schools, the Gaelic League, Gaelic Athletic Association, the Ancient Order of Hibernians and many other groups representing different aspects of Irish American and Catholic Heritage and Culture.
“The affiliated organizations support the parade through the payment of annual dues and participation in the parade fundraising events. They represent the majority of the units that participate in the parade making it one of the biggest in the world.
“Since 1992, the parade has been operated by St. Patrick’s Day Parade Inc., a corporation whose sole purpose is to conduct, in cooperation with the broader Irish American community, a parade in honor of St. Patrick, the principles of the Roman Catholic Church, and the culture and tradition of the Irish and Irish American people.
“Despite being the backbone of the parade, the board and its parade committee have continually marginalized the affiliated organizations.
“It had been hoped by many in the affiliated organizations that the inclusion of an LGBT group in last year's parade led by his Eminence Cardinal Dolan as Grand Marshal signaled an end to past controversies and allows the parade to once again focus on all that is right and important about St. Patrick’s Day and the parade.
“However, it appears that the continued feuding between Celebration Chair Mr. John Dunleavy, and St. Patrick Day Parade Inc. chairman Dr. John Lahey, has prompted Dr. Lahey and the board to take it upon themselves to unilaterally seize control of the parade with democracy and the voice of the affiliated organizations being a casualty.
“Recent bylaw changes proposed by Dr. Lahey would eliminate the elected Parade Committee and replace it by an ‘executive board’ appointed exclusively by Dr. Lahey.
“A further proposal by Dr. Lahey to eliminate the article in the parade bylaws which states ‘The Parade will be held in honor of St Patrick, the Patron Saint of the Archdiocese of New York and the Patron Saint of Ireland’ raises legitimate concerns that a small group accountable to no one but Dr. Lahey will take the parade away from its traditional roots and values in pursuit of their own and commercial interests.”
The petitioners stated that they hoped the board “will be reminded that the parade is held in trust for the current and future members of the Irish American community, to whom they should feel accountable, and they will stop acting unilaterally and engage is dialogue with the affiliated organizations.”
The petition organizers, mostly members of the AOH and various affiliated organizations with long ties to the parade, claimed that in proposing changes, Dr. Lahey had effectively highlighted the fact that recent appointments to the board were made contrary to the current bylaws and were thus null and void, as were any board decisions made since.
Organizers of the petition have stressed that they see the issue of a gay and lesbian group (or in the case of the 2016 parade, two such groups) as not being an issue for them.
They additionally state: “Dr. Lahey and the board cite the need for inclusion in the parade yet the creation of special ‘executive committees’ and the disenfranchisement of organizations that have marched and supported the parade for decades contradict those sentiments. They wish to remove the only purpose and meaning of the parade and to place it totally under the control of a small ruling body.
“We request that the proposed executive board meeting and all changes to the bylaws of the parade be suspended and that a meeting between the Board, Committee, and Affiliated Organizations be convened as soon as possible. Our ancestors came to this country to escape the rule by elites and this meeting is more than appropriate and long overdue.”