Lahey jpg sm

Parade board says no demotion of St. Patrick

Dr. John Lahey

By Ray O’Hanlon

Faced with concern and questions over the future direction of the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade, summed up in an online petition that has attracted over 5,000 signatures, the parade board has said in a statement that it is “deeply concerned about the misinformation being circulated and we want to assure everyone that, contrary to what has been circulated, there will be no changes to the Parade, its traditions or format.”

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

The statement said that the board wanted “everyone to know” that it was committed to honoring Saint Patrick as outlined in Article 1, Section 1 of the By Laws of St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Inc.

“Contrary to the misinformation circulated by some individuals, changes in this article were never up for discussion, said the statement.

Article 1 states: “The purpose for which the corporation is formed shall be to organize and conduct a parade along Fifth Avenue in the City of New York on March 17 of each year to honor Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland and of the Archdiocese of New York, and to apply for and hold any permit, license, authorization or any other certification as may be necessary or convenient to the foregoing purpose.”

“We want it to be known that changes to this article will never be up for discussion,” said the board statement.

“Article 1 (to honor St. Patrick) was the purpose of the corporation when it was established in the 1990s by then chairman Frank Beirne, Jim Barker, John Dunleavy, John Lahey and other great Hibernians, and this will continue,” the statement added.

And it continued: “We also want it to be known the Board is committed to its relationship with the AOH, as outlined in Article 2, Section 3 of the By-Laws. Contrary to the misinformation circulating in some circles, this was never up for negotiation.”

The statement said that the board was also committed to the involvement of the affiliated organizations in the parade, not least the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

The statement reads: “The AOH has a historical connection to the Parade spanning over 150 years, and this connection should and will continue to be recognized.

“The language in the current By Laws reads ‘In recognition of the relationship between the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Inc., there shall be two (2) Ancient Order of Hibernians members and one (1) Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians member on the Board of Directors. These individuals should be members of a New York County Ancient Order of Hibernians Divisions. They will be nominated and elected by the Board of Directors of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Inc.’

“This Article 2, Section 3 of the By-Laws was never up for discussion, said the board statement.
It continued: We are committed to the involvement of the affiliated organizations in the Parade: AOH, LAOH, Counties Organization, Emeralds Societies, Fraternal Societies, High Schools and Colleges. This has to be and is very much a part of the Parade and part of the Board’s strategy as we move the organization forward to be more compliant with current State and Federal governance guidelines concerning not-for-profit organizations.”

“The Board want to assure everyone that there will be no changes to the Parade, its traditions or format! We will start at 8:30 a.m. with the Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Parade at 11 a.m. We want all organizations involved so we all can celebrate together the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising and pay homage to the lives of the brave men and women of Ireland that gave their lives so Ireland could be free.

We thank everyone for their continued support and involvement with the NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

“We look forward to having a wonderful celebration of the life of St Patrick in 2016 and honoring our heritage and culture in the greatest city in the world, New York City as we have done for the past 254 years.”

Separately, the chairman of the Parade Corporation and Board of Directors, Dr. John Lahey, has penned a letter to affiliated organizations echoing the board statement regarding the central position of St. Patrick in the parade, but also touching on issues of governance and parade finances.

“Contrary to what you may have heard recently, neither I nor any other member of the NYC St. Patrick's Day Parade Board of Directors has any intention to alter in any way the Catholic nature of the Parade and the express purpose for which it is incorporated, namely, to honor St. Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland and the Patron Saint of the Archdiocese of New York, Dr. Lahey wrote in the letter.

And he continued: “Any change of this type would require a majority vote of the Board of Directors of which I am just one vote out of 18. The Board of Directors includes four former Grand Marshals Denis Kelleher, Tim Rooney, Frank Comerford and John Lahey; Irish American business leaders Brian Leeney, John Fitzsimons and John O'Connor; and long-serving directors and Irish American community leaders such as Hilary Beirne, Frank McGreal, Rosemary Lombard, Cathy Miceli, John Dunleavy and Eileen Barker.

“These directors alone constitute almost three-quarters of the Board of Directors and not a single one would even entertain, let alone vote to change, the Catholic nature of the Parade honoring St. Patrick. The Parade's Board of Directors is equally committed to maintaining its longstanding relationships with the AOH and the Affiliated Organizations, and any change in these relationships would also require a majority vote of the Board.

“The Board of Directors held a special telephonic meeting on June 30, 2015, at which 13 of our 18 directors were in attendance, including the President of the Board, John O'Connor. This special meeting was scheduled after several directors learned about some financial irregularities and possible misuse of Parade finances.

“At this meeting John Fitzsimons and I were unanimously elected to two newly created positions of Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors. The very next day we contacted the Parade's long-serving accountant and engaged him to perform a more extensive review of the Parade's finances going back three years.

“This review was completed and an 11-page report was given to us on September 3, 2015, a copy of which was given to and reviewed St. Patrick's Day Parade and Celebration Committee is operated under the auspices of the St. Patrick's Day Parade, Inc. with the 14 of 18 directors who attended our next meeting on September 28, 2015.

“Our accountant was present at that meeting and reviewed his report in great detail and answered questions from the directors. For obvious reasons, I can't go into the details of this report but rest assured the findings with respect to financial irregularities were quite serious.

“But don't take my word for this, feel free to contact other Board members for their assessment. As Directors of the Parade, with both legal and fiduciary responsibilities for the Parade's finances, we must pursue these matters wherever they lead us and subsequently take appropriate corrective action.

“Once this highest priority task is completed, I promise there will be ample time to address appropriately and satisfactorily your legitimate concerns about the continued involvement of the affiliated organizations and the AOH in the future governance of the Parade.

“For those of you who have known me during my almost 30 years of service on behalf of the Parade, 16-plus years on the Parade's Board of

Directors, Vice Chairman of the Parade Committee for 16 years, Chairman of the Parade's Scholarship Committee for 22 years, and Chairman of the TV and Parade Sponsors/Advertisers Committee for 12 years, the last thing I need is another title or more Parade-related volunteer work. If a majority of the St. Patrick's Day Parade's Board of Directors would like me to step down as a director and chairman, I would be happy to do so immediately.

“In the meantime, my fellow directors and I will do our best to ensure that the policies and decisions approved by the Board of Directors are carried out and that best governance practices consistent with State and Federal laws governing not-for-profit organizations are followed.”

Dr. Lahey concluded: “Thank you for your understanding, patience and support during these challenging times for our governing Board of Directors and the Parade we all love.”