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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 24, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 39
Irish president turns down NYC St. Patrick's Parade invite
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Irish president turns down NYC St. Patrick's Parade invite

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Irish president Mary McAleese has declined an invitation to be Grand Marshall of New York City's St. Patrick's Day Parade.

She turned down the invitation to preside over the historic 250th anniversary of the event because parade organizers refuse to allow an Irish LGBT contingent to march.

According to IrishCentral.com, a New York City-based website associated with The Irish Voice newspaper and Irish America magazine, McAleese was concerned that participating in the parade would compromise her "strong relationship with Gay and Lesbian organizations in Ireland."

Her decision was described as a "major blow" to parade organizers, who hoped to make their 250th anniversary a special event.

A compromise scenario in which McAleese would march in the Gay-organized inclusive St. Patrick's parade in Queens on the weekend before March 17, and then march in the actual 5th Avenue parade also failed because she could not remain in New York for such a long period of time.

Marching in the Queens parade as well as the 5th Avenue one also has been the way most major U.S. politicians - including New York City's Mayor Michael Bloomberg - have handled the issue in recent years.

New York's Roman Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan is reportedly being considered as the back-up choice for Grand Marshall.

McAleese was first elected president of Ireland in 1997 and reelected in 2004. While she was thought to be a conservative Catholic when first elected, she made outreach to marginalized communities a major theme of her presidency.

She is Ireland's second woman president, and the world's first woman to succeed another woman as an elected head of state.

The parade in New York is organized by the Ancient Order of Hibernians. For almost 20 years, the Hibernians have refused to allow the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization to participate.

New York courts have ruled that the parade is a "private" event, and therefore not subject to New York City's civil rights ordinances.

At times, feelings between parade organizers and the LGBT Irish community have become quite bitter.

In 2006, parade chairman John Dunleavy compared LGBT activists to neo-Nazis trying to invade a Jewish march.

In response, Lesbian City Council speaker Christine Quinn refused to march in that year's parade.

In spite of the hostility of the Catholic Church hierarchy, Gay and Lesbian organizations have participated in St. Patrick's Day celebrations in Ireland itself for several years.

A recent Irish Times poll showed that two-thirds of the Irish people support same-sex marriage.

In an editorial congratulating McAleese on her decision, IrishCentral.com compared parade organizers to the militant Protestant Orange Order - definitely not a compliment among Irish Catholics.

"It was akin in some strange way to the refusal of Orange leaders in Northern Ireland to enter into discussions with nationalist residents in Drumcree which led to such mayhem for many years in Northern Ireland," the editorial said.

"In the end, the Orange paraders lost in the court of public opinion, devastatingly so, and the message from the president of Ireland is that the New York parade committee has lost out, too."

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