The organisers of the New York City St Patrick’s Day parade infuriated Irish opinion in the city with a last minute u-turn to include a contingent of anti-Irish PSNI police while continuing to ban gay and lesbian organisations.
Last weekend, the parade committee had announced that it would disinvite the PSNI (formerly the RUC) “in deference to !!! “. On Saturday night organisers said they were “unable to confirm” their decision, before a “last-minute” reversal allowed the notoriously sectarian police force to take part in the parade.
The news came in a week in which the PSNI had arrested a man for speaking Irish, fined a Catholic schoolboy for playing Gaelic sports, and then forcefully removed Irish tricolour flags from those taking part in a St Patrick’s Day celebration in Belfast.
A backlash against the parade organisers saw two prominent New York chapters of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), the organisation most closely linked to the parade, renounce their support.
“If the Irish Consulate, Sinn Fein and the Parade Committee wants to show solidarity with the group responsible for the murder of Patrick Finucane and scores of other Irish Catholics then have them invite you all to march on the [loyalist] Shankill in July,” said Cliff Nolan of the Albany AOH.
There was also a hostile response in the traditional Irish pubs and clubs of New York, and it was seen as no coincidence that two of the main sponsors of the parade, Guinness and Heineken, withdrew their support after it emerged that the PSNI would be included. The drinks groups publicly linked their decision to the exclusion of the gay organisations, the issue which had dominated headlines in the US mainstream media.
The 26-County Taoiseach was pictured with the group of PSNI and 26 County Gardai police before the parade began. He told journalists: “We have moved on from blockages of the past to open doors for the future.”
Unionists and British officials also expressed satisfaction, while Sinn Fein was accused of being “triumphalist” over the outcome. Referring to those opposed to the PSNI’s inclusion as “dissidents”, the former Sinn Fein publicist Danny Morrison tweeted the message: “Have the dissidents had a nice St. Patrick’s Day, watching the PSNI march in New York?”
In response, Eirigi’s Stephen Murney accused Morrison of “practically gloating” in the faces of the victims of RUC collusion who he said had opposed the PSNI inclusion in the parade.
Among those who he said expressed their opposition last weekend were the family of murdered Sinn Fein vice president Maire Drumm, the Nugent family who lost their loved one in Cappagh in 1991, and the McGovern family from Fermanagh whose loved one was shot in the back by the RUC.
Morrison, who is secretary of the Bobby Sands Trust, said that he had “the right to my opinion and to criticize where I see fit”.