John Dunleavy (right) with John Fitzsimons on Fifth Avenue.
By Ray O’Hanlon
Not for the first time in recent years a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade after what some parade insiders have described as a “coup” aimed at sidelining longtime parade chairman, John Dunleavy.
Dunleavy remains chairman of the parade organizing committee, but in a dramatic move that may well have shifted the axis of power in the parade organization, committee vice chairman, Dr. John Lahey, has been named as “chair” - apparently of the crucial parade corporation, this in a release issued Wednesday by the public relations firm that acts on the parade’s behalf.
The Echo has learned that the dramatic change in the parade power structure was brought about in a conference call on Tuesday involving a number of top parade officers.
John Dunleavy was not included in the call, and indeed was out of the country and in Ireland when the conference took place.
One parade source told the Irish Echo that Dunleavy was not informed of the outcome of the meeting and may well have only found out when contacted Wednesday by supporters in the parade organization – this after a report on the Irish Central website that Dunleavy had been ousted.
However, the press release presented a more nuanced picture of what had transpired, or what was in the process of evolving.
It stated: “John Lahey, PhD, long-time vice chair of the Board of Directors of St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Inc., the organization which owns and produces New York City’s 253-year-old St. Patrick’s Day Parade, has been named chair, with the authorization to add a second lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender group to the parade.
“John Fitzsimons was named Vice Chairman of the Board at the June 30 meeting. Lahey and Fitzsimons were instrumental in arranging for Out@NBC to participate in the 2015 St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
“Out@NBC has been invited to march again in the 2016 parade.
“Lahey and Fitzsimons were authorized to represent the Board of Directors: To select a second LGBT group to march in the 2016 Parade; To negotiate and renew the TV broadcast of the Parade with long-time partner WNBC and to develop and implement a communications and public relations plan to communicate clearly and comprehensively to the media and all other stakeholders in the Parade, the decisions and activities of the Board of Directors with respect to these recent actions and all important future decisions and actions.”
Irish Central recently reported that Mr. Dunleavy was seeking an alternative to parade broadcaster WNBC and that he remained implacably opposed to the participation of an organized gay group in the parade.
The press release continued with words from Dr. Lahey, president of Quinnipiac University - a highly respected figure in the parade organization and broader Irish American community, and someone who has been an increasingly crucial figure in attracting financial support and sponsorship for the parade.
“With determination, and humility, the Board of Directors is committed to building on the tradition of celebrating the contributions of all men and women of Irish descent through the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City,” Dr. Lahey said.
“We honor the values, the sacrifice, the great heart, of those who have come before and look to inspire those who come after.”
The release stated that John Dunleavy would continue in his role as “chair of the Parade Committee of the Board of Directors, responsible for organizing the affiliated organizations marching in the parade March 17.”
The release concluded: “In approving all of these new policies and decisions, the Board of Directors of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Inc., underscores its authority and responsibility as the sole legal and fiduciary for the policies, finances and the general welfare of the NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade, a responsibility it takes quite seriously.”
Mr. Dunleavy had indicated some weeks ago that he intended to seek another two year term as chairman when parade voting delegates gathered in the fall to vote for parade officers.
But it appears that his effort to shift broadcasting rights, and his opposition to any organized gay participation in the parade, were crucial catalysts in leading to this week’s events.
What remains unclear is how precisely Mr. Dunleavy will react to these latest developments.
One parade insider told the Echo that Mr. Dunleavy was still “unconditionally” the parade chairman, regardless of what had been decided at the Tuesday conference call.
Another expressed concern that the parade itself could be endangered by strife within the parade organizing structure as a result of this week’s events.
One group that favorably viewed the apparent sea change in the parade organizing structure was Irish Queers, which has protested its exclusion from the parade each year by mounting a picket on Fifth Avenue.
Said the group in a statement: “The reasons behind Dunleavy’s ouster are something to celebrate. In the referendum on May 22, Ireland roundly rejected homophobia and the authority of the Catholic church to dictate Irish culture.
“Irish Queers and its predecessor, the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization, have staged the same battle at the parade. We have posed the legacy of Irishness as a powerfully diverse set of experiences – and a history of throwing off chains – against the religious vision of Irishness as a closed, provincial identity that erases so many people’s real lives. The question of whether queers can take our place in Irish history and culture is now settled.”