Fionnan Sheahan

Saturday 26 July 2014

Women and gays anathema to Ancient Order of Bigots

The Coalition will back gay rights here – but not in the US, writes Fionnan Sheahan, Group Political Editor

Fionnan Sheahan Group Political Editor

Published 09/02/2014|02:30

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Did you tell Mary Lou? Gerry Adams faced charges of hypocrisy after giving a speech at a men only event in Boston

'DID you tell Mary-Lou?" Gerry Adams was cornered. The Sinn Fein president was being peppered with questions about his attendance the night before as a guest speaker at a dinner held by a controversial and upmarket organisation that doesn't allow female members.

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Adams had ditched his much-vaunted commitment to "equality" by giving a speech to the all-male membership of 'Clover Club', a predominantly Irish-American organisation in Boston.

The black-tie dinner at the plush Boston Park Plaza Hotel in March 2010 was attended by about 500 members of the club, founded in 1883 by Irish-Americans. The then governor of Massachusetts had cancelled an appearance before the group the previous year because of its refusal to allow female members.

No such qualms for Adams hobnobbing in such circles.

Back home, Sinn Fein had described men-only clubs as "stuck in the dark ages" and "Victorian", criticising them for maintaining an "elitist and sexist policy of not accepting women as full members".

Unfortunately, whether Adams's address to his male audience included these condemnatory views is not known, as the members of the Irish media present were politely but forcefully told to leave. Standing at the entrance to the Imperial Ballroom in the hotel where Adams was due to speak, a female Irish journalist was informed by security: "Ma'am, you can't be here." The following day, at a slightly more egalitarian Irish-American event, Adams blustered when questioned about his attendance: "Obviously I'm against exclusion. I'm for inclusivity. I made that point."

Asked if he had discussed his decision to attend with Sinn Fein vice-president Mary-Lou McDonald, Adams bashfully replied: "No ... I didn't."

One set of standards in Ireland – another in America.

To be fair, Sinn Fein isn't the only party and Adams isn't the only political figure from this country to consort with groups with questionable views on the treatment of sectors of society which would raise eyebrows back home.

The decision of the mayor of New York Bill de Blasio to boycott the St Patrick's Day parade in the Big Apple has again thrown the spotlight on the attitudes of official Irish-America.

The parade is organised by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, America's oldest Irish Catholic fraternal organisation founded in 1836. Former members include President John F Kennedy.

But the organisation has been embroiled in controversy for decades over the restriction on gay marchers in the world's biggest St Patrick's Day parade. The AOH claims gay people are welcome to march, but it doesn't allow the display of political banners, such as gay pride emblems. The gay community is not convinced.

When she received an invitation to be grand marshal of the parade, former president Mary McAleese deftly insisted "scheduling constraints" and a very busy final year in office meant she couldn't accept.

But the reason behind the decision was believed to be the contentious exclusion of gay groups. Mr De Blasio doesn't feel the need to doff the cap to Irish-America.

Although he won a landslide victory, taking almost 75 per cent of the votes, he fared badly in a number white Catholic areas, such as those occupied by the Irish-American communities, where his Republican challenger won handily.

He also committed the cardinal sin of beating an Irish-American, former Speaker of the New York City Council Christine Quinn, to become the Democrat candidate.

Mr De Blasio doesn't owe Irish-America anything and he is fulfilling his progressive mandate. When he was sworn in as mayor at the start of the year, he promised to remake the largest city in the US as a foundry for liberal ideas.

Caught between offending the gay lobby or influential Irish-Americans, the Government's decision is predictable.

A compromise is struck where the Government recognises the separate and smaller, gay St Pat's For All parade in New York.

But there's no question the Taoiseach Enda Kenny or even the Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, for all his talk about gay marriage being the civil rights issue of our generation, is going to risk upsetting the Irish-American hierarchy.

The Coalition won't jeopardise the disproportionate access to the corridors of power the Irish-American lobby grants it.

The annual jamboree trip to the US by the Taoiseach of the day is taken for granted at this stage, but not every world leader gets a meeting with the US president in the White House once a year.

Normally, the US president only makes two trips a year down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC to Capitol Hill – to deliver the State of the Union address and to attend the St Patrick's Day lunch with Congressional leaders.

With the demographic trends swinging against the Irish stateside, the Government can't afford to show any sign it doesn't appreciate the powerful role of the diaspora.

And if that means turning a blind eye to exclusion that wouldn't be tolerated at home, then it's a cost the Coalition is willing to pay.

Frequently, the Irish-American gatherings around St Patrick's Day will feature a singer and a band lashing out a few drinking songs, like: "If you're Irish come into the parlour, There's a welcome there for you . . ."

A welcome, unless you're a woman – or gay.

Irish Independent

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