City's 250th parade fails to find place for gay people


NEW YORK:THE 250TH New York St Patrick’s Day Parade proceeded in warm spring sunshine but the parade organisers’ continuing refusal to permit gay people to participate fully again cast a shadow over the event.

The committee in charge of the biggest parade in the world prohibits gay people from marching as a group, a move that has long infuriated liberal activists. The organisers contend that gay people are free to participate as individuals but that allowing them to march under their own banner would be contrary to the supposed Catholic ethos of the event.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore was supportive of the case made by gay rights activists at a meeting on the day before the parade, according to participants.

According to one attendee, New York City councilman Daniel Dromm, Mr Gilmore said “exclusion is not Irish” and noted that contemporary Ireland “may not be the quaint Ireland that people have in their minds but it is a large, multicultural, inclusive nation”.

No transcript of the Tánaiste’s remarks was immediately available and the media were not made aware of the meeting in advance.

Another participant, Seán Cahill, managing director of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a New Yorkbased organisation, said that Mr Gilmore did not initially appear aware that the issue of the gay ban had not been resolved. But he said that the Tánaiste “made it really clear that he supports full equality for gay people”.

Mr Cahill added that Mr Gilmore undertook to raise the issue with parade organisers, saying he would argue that any St Patrick’s Day Parade “should celebrate Ireland as it is now”.

The controversy seemed to have little effect upon the estimated 150,000 participants and spectators who lined Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue on one of the mildest days of the year so far.

Soldiers from the US army’s 69th infantry regiment – also known as the “Fighting 69th” – led the parade as usual.

The grand marshal was bestselling novelist Mary Higgins Clark. Higgins Clark, from an Irish-American family in New York’s Bronx borough, is only the fourth woman to serve as grand marshal. She described the experience as “fabulous”. Last year’s grand marshal, New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly, was also among the marchers this year.

The crowds, as ever, took over a sizeable chunk of midtown Manhattan, with bands tuning up down side streets, roadside vendors offering an almost limitless number of green souvenirs and revellers celebrating with exuberance.

Among the crowd were Thomas and Mary Alice Hunt, Irish-American cousins now living in different parts of New York state.

Ms Hunt said that the significance of the parade lay in it permitting the opportunity “to show where our hearts are, no matter how long we have lived over here”. Her cousin added that he enjoyed meeting people over from Ireland, so “we can grow our family bigger”.

Elsewhere, 22-year-old Kevin McCorrmick watched the parade go by clad in an “Irish Drinking Team” T-shirt. “The drinking and all the Irish pride – I love it!” he said.