Why the Taoiseach should not join the St Patrick’s Day parade
Opinion: Our Irishness is pluralist and non-sectarian
‘The Taoiseach told the Dáil on February 18th that he will be “happy” to march in New York because “The St Patrick’s Day parade is a parade about our Irishness, not sexuality.” He is wrong on both counts.’ Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
Last year, Enda Kenny declared in the Dáil that he was “proud to stand here as a public representative, a Taoiseach who happens to be a Catholic but not a Catholic Taoiseach. A Taoiseach for all of the people, that’s my job”. It is indeed. And if he is serious about doing that job he will explain next week, courteously but firmly, why he can’t march in New York’s St Patrick’s Day parade. He will join the city’s mayor Bill de Blasio in declining to march while gay and lesbian Irish people are refused the same opportunity. In doing so he will make a momentous statement about what it means to be Irish. The Taoiseach told the Dáil on February 18th that he would be “happy” to march in New York because “the St Patrick’s Day parade is a parade about our Irishness, not sexuality”. He is wrong on both counts. The ban on the Irish Gay and Lesbian Organization (ILGO) is, of course, about their sexuality: they’re not banned because they drink the wrong beer or follow the wrong football team. Just as significantly, though, the parade is emphatically not about “our Irishness”. Our Irishness, if “our” has any meaning in this context, is pluralist and non-sectarian. A taoiseach “for all the people” surely understands that the people are Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Orthodox, atheist and 100 shades of belief and non- belief.
The St Patrick’s Day parade in New York is explicitly and exclusively Catholic. This is not a value judgment. It is a fact. It is held “in honour of the patron saint of Ireland and the archdiocese of New York”.
It is preceded by Mass in St Patrick’s Catholic cathedral and then reviewed from the steps of the cathedral by the serving archbishop, currently Cardinal Timothy Dolan. The issue of gay and lesbian marchers is utterly intertwined with the religious nature of the parade.
The decision to ban ILGO was made on the grounds that the parade’s then organiser, the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), is a Catholic organisation and could therefore exclude any group or person “whose purposes, principles or agenda are inconsistent with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church”.
Although the AOH no longer formally or- ganises the parade (fear of legal action led to the creation of a committee headed by John Dunleavy, who is acknowledged to be close to Cardinal Dolan), these are still the grounds on which ILGO is banned.
In argument before the New York city human rights commission, the parade organisers insisted the ban was legitimate precisely because “the parade is a celebration of Irish Roman Catholic heritage”.