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As March looms, ILGO goes on attack

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

Backed by an attorney from one of Manhattan’s top law firms, the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization is preparing to take the city of New York and its police department to federal court for alleged civil rights violations.

The move comes as the ongoing feud between the Irish gay group and the Ancient Order of Hibernians is set to leapfrog the Atlantic.

The Hibernians have been condemned by the organizers of the annual Bloody Sunday commemoration in Derry as a result of ILGO’s continued exclusion from the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

However, despite the criticism, the AOH is planning to send a 140-member delegation to Derry next week in order to take part in the commemoration. ILGO, too, is planning to be represented in the commemorative events.

The Bloody Sunday Weekend Committee, the group that runs the annual commemoration ceremonies on the last weekend in January, issued a statement last week describing the exclusion of ILGO from the New York parade as a "policy of discrimination."

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"The Committee condemns this discriminatory policy as being in direct contradiction of the ethos and objectives of the original Bloody Sunday march on Jan. 30, 1972, which was specifically in support of inclusiveness and equal rights for all," the statement said.

"The Committee is aware that the ban on ILGO taking part in the New York parade has been in operation for the past 10 years and has been enforced by law, resulting in the arrest by the New York police of members of ILGO for attempting to participate in the parade. The Committee earnestly hopes that there will be no repetition of such appalling scenes on March 17, 2000. Toward this end, the Committee calls on the AOH in the U.S. to rescind its ban on ILGO forthwith and to respect the equal right of Irish lesbians and gays to express their Irishness on St. Patrick’s Day."

At the same time, the committee made it clear that the Hibernians were not being excluded from the Derry events.

"As with every group wishing to commemorate the Bloody Sunday massacre, they will be made welcome," the committee stated.

The committee, in its statement, also acknowledged "the moral and practical support which the AOH has given over the years to the families of the Bloody Sunday victims and the role the AOH has played both in Ireland and in North America in keeping the bloody Sunday issue to the fore."

An initial statement from ILGO reacting to the Bloody Sunday committee statement had implied that the Hibernians were being barred from the Derry gathering.

"It’s ironic — the AOH deny Irish queers the right to march in a parade that is the biggest public expression of Irish identity in the world, thinking they can say who’s Irish and who isn’t. But within the community, being excluded from the Bloody Sunday Commemoration is a far greater mark of shame. . . . "

ILGO spokeswoman Anne Maguire subsequently acknowledged that her group’s statement was wide of the mark in suggesting that the Hibernians were actually unwelcome in Derry.

"The Hibernians are not being disinvited. But the point being made is very strong. You can’t be for civil rights on one side of the Atlantic and be a bigot on the other," Maguire said.

The Hibernians, meanwhile, are packing their bags regardless of the ruckus. A statement on behalf of National President Tom Gilligan this week indicated that the organization’s delegation would be traveling to Derry on Jan. 28 to meet with families of the Bloody Sunday victims and to participate in activities commemorating the tragic event.

"For nearly 30 years the AOH has sought the truth about this tragedy and has stood side by side with the families in that struggle," Gilligan said.

Gilligan indicated that the Hibernians were sensitive to the matter of being welcome in Derry or not.

"We will march where we are welcome and not otherwise; and with the families of the victims under a banner appealing for justice and not otherwise," he said.

AOH National Press Secretary Mike Cummings told the Echo that members of the Derry-based division of the Hibernians are expected to meet with Bloody Sunday commemoration organizers this week in an effort to clarify the views of the organizers.

Meanwhile, ILGO’s Maguire said that the gay group was finalizing preparations for a federal civil rights lawsuit against New York City and the NYPD.

"We will be having a jury trial and will be suing for damages on the grounds that our constitutional rights have been violated by the city and police," Maguire said.

She added that ILGO was being represented by an attorney from the Manhattan law firm of Paul Weiss. All legal work in the case on ILGO’s behalf would be done on a pro-bono basis, she said.

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