Irish echo logo 750x550

Questions reveal issues at heart of parade divide

By Ray O’Hanlon

The group, Concerned Members of the Affiliated Organizations, has presented a list of fourteen questions to the board of directors of the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and in particular its chairman Dr. John Lahey.

And in those questions are laid bare the issues that are currently roiling the parade - even as it prepares to play its front rank part in Irish America’s commemoration of the 1916 Rising.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

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

The questions are these: “Why does Dr. Lahey say, on the one hand, that he recognizes John Tully as ‘the elected Chairman of the Parade Committee,’ but at a different meeting say that he does not recognize the duly elected Parade Committee, nor the right of Affiliated Organizations to vote for anyone other than candidates preapproved by the Board?

“Why does Dr. Lahey say that ‘the Board will not recognize the Parade Committee’ since the Board has not met since September of 2015, well before the election of the Grand Marshal? Does Dr. Lahey’s position reflect a formal position of the entire Board, or does it reflect his personal opinion?

“Why has Dr. Lahey appointed a Special Executive Committee led by Hilary Beirne and Frank McGreal to run the 2016 Parade when the duly elected Parade Committee has consistently offered their services?
“Why does Dr. Lahey not seem to know who is in charge of the Formation Committee, since he declared at one meeting that Hillary Beirne was in charge, but on the same day a letter was issued, signed by Dr. Lahey and “Mr. Reilly Dundon, Formation Chairman”, announcing a Delegates meeting?

"Why has there been no money for Parade Committee scholarships for the past two years, when the Board has seen fit to pay more than $17,000 for a reception at the NY Athletic Club?

"Why is a Quinnipiac University public relations person listed as the contact person in the press package issued at the formal announcement of the Grand Marshal?

"Why is the duly elected Parade Committee not listed on the Parade Corporation letterhead or website?

"Why did the Board list members of the Parade Committee and several other individuals on a fundraising appeal letter as members of the Journal Committee without their approval or any prior notice?

"Why are there three members on the Board who are not eligible to serve, according to the requirements for membership put forth in the Parade Corporation By-Laws?

"Why is the Parade Corporation spending money on a very public lawsuit, rather than trying to preserve money and resolve disputes quietly and personally?

"Why is the Parade Corporation locked into a 3-year contract with NBC, costing $525,000 in broadcasting fees to NBC and $600,000 in production costs, without having opened the television contract up to a public bidding process?

"Why is the Parade paying NBC, rather than being paid for the privilege of letting NBC broadcast the parade and deriving their own revenues?

"Why has there only been one meeting of the Affiliated Organizations this year, when by this time in past years there would have been several?

"Why did Hilary Beirne submit a letter to the Attorney General of New York, apparently without Dr. Lahey’s prior knowledge or approval (according to Dr. Lahey), while at the same time he was saying publicly that he wanted to avoid government interference?"

The statement goes on to state that it should be clear that the concerns being raised are less about the personalities of any one individual than they are about “preserving and strengthening” the voice of the Affiliated Organizations.

“We reject the idea of a limited board of self-perpetuating individuals who have no obligation to listen to the democratically-elected representatives of the people who make up the Parade," the statement says.

And it continues: “We have great respect and admiration for (Grand Marshal) Senator Mitchell, and none of our questions should be in any way interpreted as aimed at the Grand Marshal.

“In fact, that some groups are participating in the Parade at all is largely due to his presence. But many groups who would normally sponsor tables and ads in the journal have declined to do so this year, in silent protest of the actions of the Board. If the Board refuses to acknowledge the elected representatives of the Affiliated Organizations, then the Affiliated Organizations quite reasonably are asking why they should support the Board.

“We have a concern that the Board is no longer working for the good of the parade.

“These are only some of the many questions raised by many people who are concerned about the Parade. The Affiliated Organizations have been unable to get satisfactory answers.

“We encourage all who are involved in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade to continue to ask questions – in public meetings, by writing to newspapers and individuals concerned, including the Parade leaders, the Cardinal, and anyone whose voice should be heard.

Make your own voices and feelings known in your local and county and state groups, and in any conversation between now and March 17. God bless your efforts, and may St. Patrick continue to bless and protect his parade and his people.”

The statement, unlike a previous one issued by CMAO, is signed by John Manning and Manhattan-based Father John Sheehan, an early critic of changes in the parade controlling structure.

The questions listed in the CMAO document are unlikely to get an early airing at a meeting set for this evening at the New York Athletic Club.

The meeting, described as a “Parade Delegates Formation Meeting,” is intended to deliver information, such as time of stepping off and street starting point to marching units, for next month’s parade.

A letter alerting marching units to the meeting stresses that it is critically important that at least one representative from each marching group turn up at the meeting to obtain the necessary information.

The letter is signed by Dr. Lahey as parade Chairman and Director, and Reilly Dundon as Formation Chairman.