Oscar Lopez Rivera and the Irish
By Daniel Dromm and Brendan Fay
For years, we have taken part in the National Puerto Rican Day Parade. We enjoy celebrating a wonderful, embracing community that has contributed to New York City and our nation in so many inspirational ways.
As gay Irish Americans, we are aware of the deep controversies that our own political history and human rights struggles have stirred in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which on multiple occasions has included people associated with the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the paramilitary organization that fought for an independent and united Ireland.
In 1983, Michael Flannery, the grand marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, announced that the event would be “a pro-I.R.A. parade.” Flannery had been elected as grand marshal by an overwhelming majority of votes by parade organizers.
As the New York Times reported that same year, Flannery was a founder of the Irish Northern Aid Committee, known as Noraid, and had been acquitted of charges that he and others had conspired to smuggle arms to the IRA. In 1981, a Federal judge had ruled that Noraid was an agent of the Provisional I.R.A.
Indeed, some people refused to participate in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade but many — including then Mayor Koch and Gov. Mario Cuomo — announced that they would look at the big picture and honor the traditions of Irish Americans.
A more recent example is the co-naming last year of a Queens street as “Easter Uprising Way,” where Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams was welcomed as the keynote speaker. The Queens Chronicle described Adams in the days leading up to that event: “In some circles, Northern Ireland political leader Gerry Adams is viewed as being at least partially responsible for bringing peace to the island after decades of bloody nationalist conflict. In others, the president of the Sinn Fein political party is viewed as someone complicit in bombings and assassinations that killed countless innocent people and rivals alike during The Troubles.”
We must note that on all of these occasions of IRA presence, police officers and firefighters — who have withdrawn from the Puerto Rican Day Parade because of the controversy around Oscar Lopez Rivera — remained a part of the Irish community’s events. As far as memory serves us, they did not call for boycotting the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and also continued to participate in it even as it adamantly excluded LGBT Irish persons.
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, the Roman Catholic founding president of Pax Christi USA, has written that the story of Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar López Rivera . . . is a story of the lengths to which our government will go to punish and silence voices of liberation. It is also the story of the courage of one man who perseveres in his hunger and thirst for justice.”
It’s important for people to examine their outrage, and consider the diversity and the complexity of every people’s history, especially when it’s been shaped by colonialism — whether it’s been the rule of the United States over Puerto Rico or the British over Ireland.
Daniel Dromm represents District 25 (Jackson Heights and Elmhurst) in the NYC Council and chairs the Council’s Irish Caucus.
Brendan Fay is the founder of the Lavender and Green Alliance and the St. Pat’s for All parade.