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No quickie divorce for Hibernians, parade committee

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

It was few days before this year’s St. Patrick’s Day and the big parade up Fifth Avenue.

A spokeswoman for the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization was standing on the steps of City Hall in Lower Manhattan speaking to reporters about ILGO’s continued exclusion from the parade.

The blame for this exclusion, the spokeswoman repeatedly stated, fell on the shoulders of the “Hibernians” who organized the parade.

The ILGO representative was technically correct. The organizers of the parade were all Hibernians.

But they weren’t the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

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Even as the press conference was taking place, the national leader of the Hibernians had already moved to place distance between the Catholic fraternal group, the parade organizing committee and its individual Hibernian members.

That distance, however, had been created by means of a private letter.

For the ILGO spokeswoman to believe the parade to be an AOH event was quite understandable given the continued confusion, both in private and public circles, over the organizational nature of the parade.

After all, the parade was being publicly dedicated by its Hibernian organizers to the kind of core Catholic beliefs espoused by the national Hibernian organization.

At the same time, however, those same organizers were repeatedly stating that the parade had been run by an independent corporate entity, separate from the Hibernian national structure, since 1992, an especially rancorous year that almost witnessed a split in AOH ranks and two rival parades.

But how independent from the Hibernians was this corporate entity? And why the continued belief, not just on the part of ILGO, that 10 years after this stated parting of the ways, the parade and the Hibernians were yet one and the same?

Part of the reason can be traced to actions of the parade committee itself, its spinoff corporation and the very nomenclature used by the committee during the 1990s when applying for the parade permit, the legal document without which there would be no St. Patrick’s Day parade in Manhattan at all.

In both 1992 and ’93, the running of the crisis-struck parade fell into the lap of the New York County Board of the AOH, a Hibernian entity but one that was virtually joined at the hip to the parade organizing committee.

In 1992, the board was handed the task of running the parade even though the parade permit had been first secured by the New York State Board of the AOH.

The following year, with legal writs flying and the possibility of no parade taking place at all, it was again the County Board that ran the parade after it had successfully turned back a New York City Human Rights Commission court effort to secure entry to the parade for ILGO.

And it would be the County Board’s name that would continue to feature on parade permit applications for a number of years after the ’93 event.

This is made evident by copies of parade permit applications secured by the Echo under New York State’s Freedom of Information Law or “FOIL.”

From 1994 through ’98, the permit application was submitted on behalf of the County Board alone.

The first indication of a more formalized change in the parade organizing structure did not appear until Jan. 22, 1999.

On that date, the permit application was submitted by parade committee chairman John T. Dunleavy on behalf of the “N.Y. County Board, Ancient Order of Hibernians, D/B/A St. Patrick’s Day Parade Inc.”

D/B/A stands for “Doing Business As.”

By the following year, the parade corporation was doing its business alone as the permit application, again submitted by Dunleavy, mentioned only the “St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Inc.”

The application has been filed on behalf of this entity alone ever since.

Even as the parade organizers were putting down on paper what had been a growing reality for years, the AOH national leadership was also putting its own distance between itself and the parade.

In a letter dated March 4 of this year, AOH National President Thomas E. Gilligan informed parade chairman Dunleavy that in the light of the parade permit having been granted to the parade corporation, “be advised that the Ancient Order of Hibernians is not a sponsor or a named controlling entity of the parade.”

Gilligan wrote that while various AOH divisions were “certainly free” to take part in the parade, the parade corporation was not to use the name of the Hibernians “or any derivative on any of its letterhead or publications.”

The letter informed Dunleavy that any use at all of the Hibernian name by parade organizers would result in the AOH National Board pursuing “every available legal remedy.”

Copies of this letter were sent to New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, police commissioner Ray Kelly and New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, whose office has recently been looking into the parade’s financial structure.

Those same finances are at the root of the divisions between the national Hibernians and the parade organizers.

The Hibernians, Gilligan to the fore, have been frustrated in their attempts to carry out a detailed examination of the parade’s books.

At the same time, the national AOH is deeply concerned over the liability issue and the potential for being sued over any untoward parade-related incident as a result of the widespread perception that the parade is a Hibernian entity.

This concern was highlighted in a separate letter from Gilligan to all AOH National Board members dated March 2.

In that letter, Gilligan stated that the Hibernian name had been used by parade organizers “as a veil of protection” in past legal proceedings.

This reference to parade organizers using the AOH name in an effort to thwart ILGO dovetails with the liability issue and is a primary cause of the formal sundering of ties between the Hibernians and the parade organizers.

That sundering has now been made plain for all the world to see by both Gilligan’s letter and the fact of the parade permit applications in most recent years making no mention at all of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

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