By Ray O’Hanlon
Against the backdrop of renewed court filings by both main protagonists in the dispute swirling around the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the role of emerging peacemaker is not this week resting on the shoulders of Grand Marshal George Mitchell, but rather parade and celebration committee chairman John Tully, who leads one of the groups caught up in the dispute.
The court filings come in advance of a hearing in Bronx Supreme Court set for Thursday, January 28.
One of the affidavits was filed by former parade committee chairman, John Dunleavy, against parade board of directors chairman, Dr. John Lahey.
It describes Dr. Lahey as “President of Quinnipiac University in his purported capacity as Chairman and Director of St. Patrick’s Day Parade Inc.”
Mr. Dunleavy’s complaint is also directed at “Francis X. Comerford in his capacity as Director of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Inc.”
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Papers have also been filed in court in advance of the hearing and on behalf of Dr. Lahey.
It is in such a divided atmosphere –one made even more charged this week by a statement strongly critical of Dr. Lahey issues by the group, Concerned Members of the Affiliated Organizations, that Dunleavy’s successor, Mr. Tully, has appealed for a united effort to ensure the success of this year’s parade.
In a letter to the affiliated organizations, Mr. Tully recaps recent events and points out that the board of directors does not actually recognize the legitimacy of the committee he now leads.
Nevertheless, he states: “Because the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is sacred to us all, your Committee made a conscious decision to do nothing that would distract from the 2016 from the 2016 Parade.
“Dr. Lahey and I met and agreed to reserve these differences for resolution at a later time and agreed the Board and Committee will work together to ensure a Parade of which we can all be proud. While this is indeed a different role for the Parade Committee, we believe it is one we must accept for the good of the 2016 Parade.”
And he added: The Committee will continue to represent the interest of the Affiliated Organizations and do all we can to preserve the integrity of our Parade. I believe you should expect nothing less from us. March 18 is soon enough to address and resolve our differences.
Between now and March 18, however, January 28 falls and there is now a thick file of affidavits and motions to dismiss before the Bronx court.
The parade dispute had simmered for some time but burst into public view only after a board of directors meeting and conference call on June 30 last.
The meeting resulted in significant restructuring of the parade controlling structure and the effective sidelining of Mr. Dunleavy though not his removal from his then position of parade chairman.
The resulting battle focused on a number of areas including the participation of gay marchers in the parade, television coverage of the parade, parade by-laws, the prominence of St. Patrick and the Catholic ethos in the parade’s future, and, significantly, parade finances with allegations of inappropriate use of parade funds directed at Mr. Dunleavy.
In his affidavit in response to Mr. Dunleavy, Dr. Lahey also focuses on the issue of gay marchers.
He states: “although nowhere mentioned in Dunleavy’s papers, the dispute is rooted in Dunleavy’s steadfast opposition to allowing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (‘LGBT’) groups to participate in the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
“Dunleavy has been a staunch and vocal critics of having any LGBT groups march in the Parade. I had many discussions with Dunleavy on this issue, but we were never able to come to agreement.”
Significantly, it has been reported that this year’s Grand Marshal, Senator George Mitchell, only accepted the offer to lead the parade on the basis that the issue of gay marchers had been fully and successfully resolved ie. that gay marchers clearly identifiable as such would be allowed take part in the parade.
There are two gay marching groups set to take part in the March 17 parade up Fifth Avenue.
In his complaint against Dr. Lahey and Mr. Comerford, Mr. Dunleavy’s devotes much ink to defending his handling of parade finances.
In his affidavit Mr. Dunleavy states in part: “Throughout my entire tenure as Chairman of the Parade Committee, our auditors have conducted thorough examination of our finances and have always returned a clean bill of health until, as discussed infra, Defendant Lahey imposed an ex post facto standard of prior board approval in the audit he ordered of the Parade finances.”
Mr. Dunleavy states that over the years he had made “numerous trips” with various individuals throughout the world as part of our public relations campaign on behalf of the Parade.”
He also points to trips made to various military and civic ceremonies honoring the military, various cultural and religious events related to the Irish and Irish-American community or in response to invitations from the various marching units that participated in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
“The results of these trips have been phenomenal as we developed a close relationship with military leaders which has led to an impressive list of top military leaders in attendance at our Parade every year,” Mr. Dunleavy states.
“The Board had common knowledge of all of these trips because they were discussed at board meetings, were shared in our social media and press releases and were part of the expenses reviewed in our audit reports.”