By Patrick Markey
The bruising squabble over a decision to invite RUC boxers to New York City for a charity boxing match soured this week as organizers canceled the public event in the face of increasing opposition from Irish-American activists.
But even as fight opponents claimed victory, NYPD boxing team representatives said they would bring the Northern Irish boxers over to New York to fight in a private, closed-door tournament at an undisclosed venue.
"We’ll fight in a garage if we have to, one cop involved in the NYPD’s team said.
The furor broke out after the NYPD boxing team announced it planned to fight a joint Garda Siochana and RUC team on March 19 to help finance medical attention for a critically injured New York police officer.
The NYPD and the Garda teams fight annually for charity in Dublin and New York City, where the event is put on by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the New York police union. This was the first time the RUC had been invited. Last year the NYPD fought in Belfast and garda officials suggested a joint team return to New York, American organizers said.
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Irish-American leaders were outraged and called on the NYPD to rescind the invitation. Referring to human rights criticism of the RUC in Northern Ireland, they said allowing the RUC to participate was insensitive to New York’s Irish community.
The boxing organizers cried foul. Shame, said the RUC and garda spokesmen, that a charity sporting event had fallen victim to political point scoring.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams joined in the fray, sending letters to New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and New York Gov. George Pataki. And prominent Irish-American leaders promised to hound the event with pickets and protests where ever it were held.
By then managers for the original venue, the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan, had pulled out, citing operational problems. After a second venue bolted, fight organizers were left scrambling for an alternative and so decided to call off the fights.
The match was to have benefited Police Officer Daniel O’Sullivan, who was struck by a drunken driver while trying to help another motorist. The cancellation has left a question mark hanging over his financial assistance.
Worried that a fellow officer would suffer, the Garda and RUC have promised that profits from a NYPD vs. Irish police boxing match in Ireland in May will go to the O’Sullivan family, according to Lee Packtor, an NYPD boxing coach.
But for those who opposed the RUC visit, questions remained. At a press conference last week, many had expressed a willingness to help the O’Sullivan family. For some, however, that offer was conditional on the withdrawal of the RUC’s invitation.
Others appeared more lenient.
"We don’t want to make them the unfortunate victims," said Rep. Joe Crowley, one of those present at last week’s press conference.
Crowley said alternative fund-raisers for the O’Sullivans could be planned, possibly at Gaelic Park in the Bronx. The congressman was still concerned, however, about the RUC visit. Private or public, he said, the visit was inappropriate while the Pattern Commission was still studying policing in Northern Ireland.
But for Packtor, the incident has been a lesson in Northern Irish politics. "It’s ironic that they can have a fund-raiser for a New York cop in Ireland, but I can’t have one in New York," he said.