By Ray O’Hanlon
New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade leaders John Dunleavy and Jim Barker are appealing a decision by the Ancient Order of Hibernians to suspend their membership in the organization for six months.
The suspension followed a complaint lodged by a former parade grand marshal and AOH member, Bill Burke.
Burke, who is president of Country Bank, claimed he was vilified by parade chairman Dunleavy and parade committee executive secretary Barker after he had publicly criticized the running of the parade, including the process of choosing grand marshals and the parade’s finances.
The suspension was handed down by a three member grievance panel on behalf of the AOH national leadership before the election of new AOH national president Ned McGinley.
However, the appeal by Barker and Dunleavy has now landed on the desk of the newly elected national board, led by McGinley.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
“The circumstances of that appeal shall be considered by the AOH national board executive during their budget and planning meeting [in Philadelphia] this weekend,” a statement on behalf of the AOH national board said.
The statement went on to suggest that the suspension period might be long past before the issues behind it are fully resolved.
“A full resolution of this situation may not be possible under the constitution until the next national convention in session,” it said. “Until then, discussion of solutions or penalties are speculation and premature.”
The AOH holds a biennial national convention with the next one not taking place until 2004 in Philadelphia.
Still, the new national president was hopeful that a resolution of the Burke versus Dunleavy and Barker affair might come sooner rather than later.
“Hopefully we can get a solution. The AOH constitution is very friendly toward anyone facing suspension,” McGinley said this week.
Barker, for his part, said he did not want to comment on the suspension but argued that neither he nor Dunleavy had done anything wrong.
“Bill Burke criticized the parade and we replied in the parade newsletter,” Barker said. “We’re not going to get into a shouting match about it.”
In that newsletter, dated April 24, 2000, Burke was depicted in a cartoon waving a placard supporting the inclusion of the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
ILGO’s inclusion has been opposed by successive parade committees.
Burke was accused in the newsletter of attempting “to distort and cause problems for the oldest, largest and most successful parade in the world.”
He was also accused of being an “agent provocateur” who was “creating problems.”
The retort in the parade committee newsletter was not, however, the only response to Burke’s public criticisms.
The president of Burke’s own AOH division — and that of Barker — wrote a letter to Country Bank chairman Joe Murphy that was highly critical of Burke’s public complaints about the parade that had appeared in a letter to the Irish Voice newspaper.
In the letter to Murphy, dated two days after the parade newsletter, John Taylor, president of Father Timothy J. Shanley Div. 4, accused Burke of causing “great disrespect, not only for the parade but also you and your bank.”
The letter also suggested that Div. 4 members would not be inclined to do business with Country Bank so long as Burke was working for the company.
Burke, contacted at his office at Country Bank this week, said he would prefer not to comment on the suspensions handed down to Barker and Dunleavy.
Meanwhile, the issue of parade finances remains under scrutiny, with the office of New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer still conducting an investigation into the parade’s books.
Barker, who prefers to use the word “inquiry” in reference of the attorney general’s activity, said that the parade committee had provided all requested and necessary documentation to Spitzer’s office.
Barker indicated that he was expecting a final word on the matter from the attorney general’s office, “hopefully soon.”