By Ray O’Hanlon
The standoff between the Ancient Order of Hibernians and organizers of the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade is set to continue, perhaps right through the summer.
Both sides met across the table last week in the Park Avenue, Manhattan, offices of Mutual of America and the only thing that was mutually agreed was that there was more work to be done to bridge the gap between both sides.
The standoff between the Hibernians, represented by New York State leaders, and members of both the parade corporation and the long-standing parade and celebration committee, revolves around several divisive issues, among them the AOH view that the parade is not being run according to Hibernian rules and bylaws.
At one point earlier this year, the AOH moved to sever ties with the parade but stepped back from the brink when it became apparent that talks aimed at reaching a concordat were possible.
The opening shots of those negotiations were fired verbally in the Mutual offices last week.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
"There was a frank exchange of opinions," AOH State President Tim Comerford said. "They received a package from us, so the ball is in their court. We’re now waiting for a response, presumably in writing."
Comerford, who was joined at the meeting by three other senior AOH officers, said he was at times encouraged and discouraged at the meeting, during which the parade organizers were represented by a team of equal size, headed by William Flynn, president of the board of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Inc.
"It was hard to read at times. Everybody had their negotiating faces on. But anytime you talk, there is hope," Comerford said.
That the discussions at the June 19 meeting were "frank" was an aspect to the event with that the parade organizers entirely concurred.
The day after the meeting with the AOH leaders, the full parade board of directors met to discuss the exchange between both sides.
"Given the complexity of the issues involved, and the fact that we are awaiting the written version of the AOH proposal, the board of directors of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Inc. voted unanimously to refer the proposals to the executive committee and to postpone any final board action on these matters until their next scheduled meeting," the board said in a subsequent statement.
Board president Flynn said that the executive committee meeting could take place at any time in the next few days, but that the next full board meeting was not due until around Labor Day in September.
"The discussions were not as precise as I would have liked," was Flynn’s reaction to the June 19 talks with the AOH leaders.
"It was indeed a very frank exchange of views. We asked them to put very precise proposals in writing and we’re awaiting that."
Flynn said that the parade organizers desired to maintain a relationship with the AOH at all levels.
"But we want to know what they [the AOH] want us to do," Flynn said.
At the same time, Flynn made it clear that the parade corporation had its own plans for the future.
"We don’t intend to go out of business," he said.
And business is not a word Flynn used lightly. The board statement’s reference to an "executive committee" is a new sign as to where the parade organizers are heading.
The committee, he said, would be made up of the chairmen of a newly appointed "board committees" that would deal with individual aspects of a parade, which, in Flynn’s view, has become a far larger and more demanding event to run in recent years.
The formation of the executive committee and the various board committees — for which new bylaws are being drawn up — would appear to confirm the widespread view that the parade’s public face will soon expand beyond the two faces most associated with it, that of parade committee chairman John Dunleavy, and the committee’s executive secretary, Jim Barker.
Both Dunleavy and Barker were present at the June 19 meeting.
Flynn said that he had been amazed at the ability of Dunleavy and Barker to run the parade so successfully.
"But the new committee structure is designed to come to terms with the increasing pressure of running the parade. Now we have some pretty good men," Flynn said.
Some observers have suggested that Dunleavy and Barker would retain their roles as the prime organizers of the mechanics of the parade but that they would cede much of their control in key areas such as finances and public relations to the various new board committees.
In the statement issued by the parade corporation board of directors, Flynn paid tribute to both men.
"We will continue the tradition of success established under the leadership of John Dunleavy and James Barker," he said.