By Ray O’Hanlon
The president of the New York County Board of the Ancient Order of Hibernians has been suspended by the order following his apparent failure to carry out a series of instructions in relation to the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
The instructions, contained in a letter, were issued to David Killkenny by the New York State Board president, Tim Comerford.
Comerford said this week that Killkenny had been suspended as New York County Board president as of May 1.
At the same time, Comerford said that the national leadership of the Hibernians was making one last effort to secure a meeting between itself and organizers of the parade in an attempt to resolve a number of issues related to the running of the annual march up Fifth Avenue.
Comerford’s letter had instructed Killkenny to draft a letter stating that the AOH was no longer associated with the parade organizers "in any form."
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Killkenny was instructed to send copies of the letter to a number of parade organizers and others, including New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, by April 30.
Asked if Killkenny had complied with the instructions in his letter, Comerford replied, "No he has not."
"Somebody else is going to do it," Comerford added. He indicated that "somebody else" would be Seamus Burke, the New York County Board vice president. The vice president, Comerford said, would "step up" until such time that there was an election for a new president.
Comerford, however, went on to say that there would also be "one more attempt to meet with the parade people to work all this out."
The issues that Hibernian leaders, including Comerford and AOH National President Tom Gilligan, want to work out with officers of both the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade Corporation and the Parade and Celebration Committee cover a variety of areas including the parade permit, insurance and finances and the matter of how the grand marshal is chosen.
One issue that does not seem to be in play is that of the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization and its continued exclusion from the parade.
"This has nothing to do with the gays. This is strictly a matter of us [the AOH] controlling use of our name," Comerford said.
Comerford said that he was drafting a new letter to be sent to Bill Flynn, president of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Corporation. Flynn was traveling this week and could not be contacted.
The letter to Flynn would express the Hibernian leadership’s desire for a meeting to resolve outstanding issues, Comerford indicated.
If no meeting took place, or if no agreement emerged from any meeting, Comerford said that the sanctions in his letter to Killkenny would be enforced.
"If they do not comply with the requests in that letter, they will no longer have the right to use the Hibernian logo in any shape or manner," Comerford said. Comerford indicated that he was prepared to give no more than "three to five weeks" to the efforts to reach an agreement with parade organizers.
Comerford said he was personally "flabbergasted" by the downturn in relations between the Hibernians and the parade organizers and stressed that the Hibernian leadership had the "utmost respect for [parade committee chairman] John Dunleavy and the job he had done for the parade."
However, Comerford said that the parade organizers had to decide whether they stood alone or were answerable to the Hibernians.
"This is not an action we wanted to take," Comerford said.
"Nobody wants this. It upsets me and that’s why I’ve agreed to try one more time to meet. The onus is on the committee now to meet us. If they don’t, then the instructions in my letter [to Killkenny] will be enforced," Comerford said, adding that the situation between the Hibernian leadership and the parade did not affect the various Hibernian divisions that are affiliated with the parade and march in it.
Jim Barker, executive secretary of the parade and celebration committee, said that the present impasse between the Hibernians and the parade would be brought up at a meeting of the parade board of directors set for May 24. The board is made up both officer-directors and directors of the parade.
"I wouldn’t venture to guess what the outcome will be," Barker told the Echo.
However, Barker made it clear that the running of the parade was a matter for the parade corporation and the celebration committee that reported to it and not, he stressed, the Hibernians.
"The Hibernians left the parade in 1992. They divested themselves of the parade and we have not used their logo since 1993," he said.
Barker said that when the present parade corporation was set up in 1993m the parade had "$11 in the bank and was $100,000 in debt."
"Since then we have paid all our bills, there is money in the bank, and many improvements in the parade," Barker said.
Barker contended that Hibernian leaders were now raising "erroneous issues" and making "outlandish statements."
"There’s no argument on our side," he said.
Barker said that while all the members of the parade corporation were Hibernians, an individual did not have to remain a member of the AOH in order to be in the corporation.
"Everybody agrees with the principles of the Hibernians, but they are a separate organization," he said. "We have been very cooperative with the Hibernians, but this is not a Hibernian parade, although all Hibernian units can affiliate with the parade."
ILGO, meanwhile, finds itself in a familiar position, that of being a parade spectator.
ILGO’s Aine Duggan said that the latest twist to the parade saga was something that ILGO would need to look at.
"This demonstrates that the bigger picture is that people are unhappy with the parade. It’s not an Irish parade any more. It doesn’t feel like a celebration," she said.
Duggan said that ILGO was nevertheless encouraged by developments.
"There may be a new committee or someone in the AOH to talk to after all this," she said.