By Ray O’Hanlon
There is widespread dissatisfaction with the manner in which the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade is being currently run. But whether this unease is ultimately translated into open action against the current parade committee is still a matter for considerable conjecture.
One thing is apparent, though: Taking on the parade committee in a head-on battle will not be an easy task.
And some parade “rebels” are already signaling that the currently emerging battle lines are not to their liking.
The stresses and strains surrounding the annual parade came to a head this year with questions being openly asked about finances and the manner in which the grand marshal is chosen.
In recent weeks, parade committee critics have gathered under an umbrella group calling itself The Ad Hoc Committee To Save The St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Never miss an issue of The Irish Echo
Subscribe to one of our great value packages.
But so far, the umbrella seems to be of the $3 variety with not too many people sheltering under its brim.
“They made a mistake by calling their meeting on the same evening that the Grand Council of Emerald Societies were meeting,” said one source familiar with the parade controversy.
The Emeralds have been to the fore in aiming criticism at parade leaders, particularly the parade committee chairman, John Dunleavy, and its secretary, Jim Barker.
The rebel meeting, held in a Bronx parish hall, was, however, a small one and not everyone present agreed with one proposed plan of calling for a New York State Attorney General’s probe of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee finances.
A former grand marshal, Mary Holt Moore, attended the Bronx meeting and was not overly impressed.
She later told the Echo that she was not inclined to question the parade committee’s integrity. She also said she would not be joining the ad-hoc group.
And the most prominent parade “rebel” in recent months, Msgr. Tom Leonard, also indicated that he did not plan to join the group, which is being led by Bronx Hibernian Jack Clark.
“I’m not involved in the Ad Hoc Committee. I’m neutral. I made my statement earlier this year and I prefer to leave it at that,” Msgr. Leonard told the Echo.
Leonard’s “statement” earlier in the year was an attack on the selection of former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds as 1998 parade grand marshal. Leonard resigned his post as parade committee chaplain charging that the manner in which Reynolds was chosen was undemocratic and contrary to parade rules.
Much of the criticism directed at the parade committee following the elevation of Reynolds was directed at secretary Barker.
The criticism reached new heights after Barker failed to provide the New York Irish papers with the parade line of march.
“Barker is the big problem. If he was to go much of the anger would quickly subside,” said one source familiar with parade politics.
Meanwhile, there were further indications in recent days that the battle over the parade might ultimately rest more with personalities than finances.
The Knights of St. Patrick group is one of the parade’s primary financial backers outside of corporate sponsorship, and, according to former co-chairman Mike Gibbons, the Knights are happy enough to donate money and leave the spending to the parade committee.
“We don’t get involved in the operations of the parade. The committee applies to us for financial grants and they have their own auditors,” Gibbons told the Echo.
He said that the Knights – founded a decade ago to provide financial backing for the parade – only tagged some small restrictions on use of contributions by the parade committee. The committee for example, could not use money given by the Knights to cover legal fees.
“But on policy issues we don’t get involved,” Gibbons said. “There is separation between the Knights and the parade committee. Our view is that the parade goes on no matter what the controversy.”