2015-02-19 / Opinion

A Family-Friendly Parade


Over the years, the Parade Committee has made great strides in making the St. Patrick's Day Parade a family-oriented event.

The start time was moved from 1 p.m. to 11 a.m. to curb the drinking of alcohol. The idea of citing people for drinking in public or other unacceptable behavior was first suggested a number of years ago by the committee itself. Make no mistake, police aggressively cite people who are on the parade route and violating city ordinances, and the Municipal Court judge issues hefty fines. That is what the committee wants. It has been a continuing effort with great results.

When a lot of people were arrested, it was not because the prior year was managed better. It was just the opposite; it resulted from more aggressive action being taken to combat issues which the parade committee has no control over. We do not sell alcohol on parade day, and we do not encourage rowdiness.

Most of the problems don’t stem from bars, but from younger college-age people having house parties. Bars control their patrons and because of long lines on that day most people usually do not leave an establishment. Salve Regina sends out a clear message to students that unruly behavior for those who live off campus will not be tolerated by the city or the university.

The committee has contracts with all participants that spell out prohibited activities. They can be viewed on our website at newportirish.com. Over the last 10 years, we have thrown out groups and banned them for violating any of these provisions.

The committee has delved more into the hospitality end of the parade in the past few years by putting out porta potties, signage, and additional barricades, as well as providing shuttles and satellite parking for participants. Additional parade marshals have been used to keep order and make sure participants follow the rules. All of this was done to make the parade more family-oriented.

We have also initiated a nonalcohol Free Family Day event after the parade, now in its ninth year.

The police department says that the parade has grown more manageable over the past few years, with the day being equivalent to a busy summer day for them. We also meet pre-parade and post-parade to discuss what needs to be worked on and what worked well. The police department introduced a program last year where people could report any unlawful or unruly behavior via cell phone.

As for the Ancient Order of Hibernians, it is an Irish Catholic fraternal organization that has strict rules for its members marching in the parade. I am proud to be a member of this group. They have done nothing to contribute to any issues you have with the parade. They represent our city with pride. They have been part of the solution by doing things such as putting out porta parties and helping the Parade Committee with funding and volunteers.

I have marched in the parade for 24 years and have noticed that more families are attending each year. There are some issues along the route in some areas, but it is a work in progress. As with any big event, there will always be some bad apples that need to be dealt with.

Comparing Bristol’s Fourth of July Parade to Newport’s St. Patrick’s Parade is comparing apples to oranges. Bristol’s event may be the granddaddy of Rhode Island parades, but they have 230 years under their belt. We have only 58. They also have a bit more funding. Bristol does run a great parade. But to say there is no public drinking would be, I believe, stretching the truth.

Headlines announcing the arrest of 100 people will pique more interest than efforts to crack down on public drinking. One hundred people were cited with the Parade Committee’s blessing. If you want to make an omelet, you have to break eggs. Clearly what can be seen through the last three years of actions is that the behavior complained about is not being tolerated but is in fact being dealt with.

All that being said, the parade is one of the highlights of our community. It is always great to see how many “locals” (born and raised here) come back for the day. We will continue our efforts to make the parade a safe and fun event for everyone. We thank all of our supporters.

Dennis P. Sullivan

Sullivan, the chair of the St. Patrick's Day Parade Committee and a member of the Dennis E. Collins Division One Newport Ancient Order of Hibernians, wrote in response to a letter to the editor that questioned parade day alcohol use and safety.

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