The Metropolitan Club, venue for the now cancelled meeting.
By Ray O’Hanlon
By late Wednesday afternoon three things were possible.
A meeting of the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade board of directors, set for Thursday evening at the Metropolitan Club in Manhattan, would go ahead as planned.
It was seen by some as having the potential to chart the course of the parade for years, or indeed decades, to come.
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An alternative result of the meeting could be paralysis in the oft convoluted inner workings of an institution that, more than any other, represents to the broader world the traditions and pride of Irish America.
A third possible outcome was that there would be no meeting at all.
That is what happened.
And as a result of the postponement the other possibilities are left dangling in the air amid a growing sense that the task of organizing the 2016 march is now more on the back foot than the front.
The cancellation came after court argument between lawyers for the parade board of directors, headed by Dr. John Lahey, and the parade celebration committee chairman, John Dunleavy.
The judge required time to consider arguments and that was enough to put tonight’s meeting on the long finger.
How long is anyone’s guess.
The cancellation was announced Wednesday evening in a message from Dr. Lahey, chairman of the parade corporation and its board of directors, and vice chairman of the parade and celebration committee.
The message from Dr. Lahey stated: “Please be advised, on advice of Counsel, that the board meeting scheduled for October 29, 2015 has been adjourned and will be rescheduled for a later date as soon as possible. Thank you for your continued service on the Board of Directors.”
The meeting, to be attended by up to 17 parade directors – though any absences would have been covered a newly announced proxy vote procedure – was to consider the elimination of a number of articles/bylaws from the parade rules and procedures, and also the elimination (and replacement with alternative positions) of both Dr. Lahey’s and Mr. Dunleavy’s chairmanships, all this along with the creation of a new executive committee.
Concern over the proposed elimination of parade bylaws requiring parade leaders to be practicing Catholics and members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, as well as language stressing the parade’s ties to the Archdiocese of New York and its patron saint, Patrick, had aroused enough concern in recent days to prompt an online petition organized by a group of Hibernians and members of some parade affiliated organizations.
The petition was a development entirely separate to a case taken against Dr. Lahey in Bronx Superior Court by Mr. Dunleavy.
But the existence of that multi-complaint suit meant that court deliberations were already underway as Thursday evening’s board meeting drew closer.
Prior to the news that the meeting was to be rescheduled, a statement from two backers of the petition reacted to comments made by Dr. Lahey given Tuesday to the Irish Central website and also the Irish Echo (though not carried in the Wednesday print edition) to the effect that the parade had for years been run “like the old Soviet Union.”
This analogy was used by Dr. Lahey to explain that the parade affiliated organizations had, for the past twenty years of more, repeatedly elected Mr. Dunleavy and himself to the top two parade executive positions with little debate or argument.
“The only candidates were John and I in the last twenty years. They (the affiliated organizations) never had a choice,” Dr. Lahey told the Echo.
The statement by the petition backers, Dennis Grogan, New York County AOH President, and Fr. John Sheehan, a Jesuit based in Manhattan, stated that the parade should not be run like the old Soviet Union.
The two “noted with sadness” that the governance of the parade had taken this form over recent years.
The two stated: “In this point we, and we believe the over 2,500 signers of our petition, are in complete agreement with Dr. Lahey.
“However, unlike Dr. Lahey we do not think that the model of a failed totalitarian state should be the model for future governance of the parade. Unfortunately, Dr. Lahey and the board are continuing in the mode of the former Soviet Union with in camera meetings and the establishment of a new ‘Supreme Soviet’ in the establishment of a new ‘executive board’ and the continuance of what Dr. Lahey concedes were pro forma elections.
“The goal of our petition is to return a voice to the Affiliated Groups that actually march in the parade, not have the parade sole source of direction be from a board standing in the reviewing standing like politburo members from the Kremlin.
“We also agree with Dr. Lahey’s statement that ‘There is quite a bit of misinformation out there. I am saddened. The information being circulated is plain wrong.’
“As an example we note Dr. Lahey’s statement ‘Rumors that the board is attempting to nix the requirement that at least two of its members are members of the AOH, and one female a member of the LAOH, are also false,’ when in fact these two members were the ones barred from the Board’s September Meeting.
“Is this board membership to be as illusionary as the Affiliate Organizations vote? These are the sort of questions that cannot be addressed through ‘point/counterpoint’ in the media.
“Dr. Lahey’s sadness (which we share) is a natural byproduct of not engaging in the type of direct dialogue, as our petition calls for.
“A meeting called after the fact to simply ratify a fait accompli board decision will not address the misinformation issue, nor build consensus and has a high risk of continued controversy.
“Dr. Lahey has called for the 2016 Parade to be in the spirt of the principles of the men and women or the revolutionary generation whose centennial we celebrate. Again we concur and remind Dr. Lahey what those brave men and women fought for: a Republic and the rejection of monarchy.”