By Andrew Bushe and Harry Keaney
DUBLIN — An American selector has caused a storm in a rose bowl by claiming that Rose of Tralee festival judges — and veteran RTE broadcaster Gay Byrne in particular — were biased against foreign contestants.
An angry Pat Troy, chairman of the Washington, D.C., Rose of Tralee contest, has called for the removal of Byrne from his positions as a contest judge and master of ceremonies.
"He should be removed," Troy told the Echo from Ireland on Tuesday. "It’s time for him to go. He’s in there too long."
Troy’s claims were dismissed as "nonsense" by Byrne.
And festival’s chief executive, Noreen Cassidy, who was winner as the Leeds Rose in 1986, disputed Troy’s claim that Byrne dominated the six-member judging panel.
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Despite being one of the favorites with the bookies, Washington’s choice, Mary McFadden, failed to win the contest this year and the title went to the Cork Rose, Geraldine O’Grady, a 22-year-old history graduate.
"This has been going on for years," Troy said. He added that in all of the years that Byrne had been MC, he hadn’t treated the foreign contestants with dignity and respect.
"Many of our girls in America, when they were interviewed, they were always asked on the stage about their divorced families, their
marriages, the religious aspects of it — he always brought the bad
things out in the American girls."
Troy said it was "very strange" that Washington hadn’t won despite having taken part in the festival for 27 years and that California hadn’t won after 37 years. The title hadn’t gone to America for 13 years.
"He was always the one who asked weird questions," Troy said.
"Gay Byrne says he is only one of five judges, but whatever he says, the rest of the judges listen to him," Troy added. "They bow down to him in Ireland. He is king."
Troy suggested that international judges, from America, Australia and New Zealand, for example, be among those on the panel. He also suggested that the competition has now become a major corporate event and that contestants who are unable to spend a year in Ireland were unlikely to win.
Troy went public on the matter to the Kerryman newspaper, saying, "I never liked Gay Byrne. He is an icon in Ireland, but I think he is unfair toward girls from around the world. The foreign girls will never win when Gay Byrne is around."
Troy, who, with his wife, has been running the Washington, D.C., Rose contest for all of its 27 years, said he could not prove his charge of bias.
"How can we prove it?" he said. "We can’t prove it. It’s just that our girls have made these different remarks from the different centers. It’s the questions he asks the girls."
Cassidy said Byrne had become a judge in 1996 and she had also been one.
"In 1996, we chose Toronto as the actual Rose of Tralee," she said. "In 1997, I was still a judge alongside Gay, and the judging panel chose France.
"The girl who won from France had been born in Ireland but she was living and working in France. She ended up going and working in America during her actual reign as the Rose of Tralee."
Cassidy said that since 1985, there have been seven Roses from Ireland, two from America, two from the UK, and one each from New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Germany.