Scheduling problems were blamed for the decision by the president’s spokesperson, who would not be drawn on speculation in America that the homophobic attitude of organisers was a key factor in her move.
Acceptance of the invitation to lead the 2011 parade – the 250th anniversary of the event – would almost certainly have drawn criticism from gay equality campaigners.
Parade organisers, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, have excluded gay and lesbian organisations from the parade for the past 20 years.
The event has provided an annual headache for many politicians, with liberal ones like Hillary Clinton opting for a compromise where-by she would attend the all-inclusive St Patrick’s parade in Queens on the weekend before March 17, and then march in the main Fifth Avenue parade later in the week when she was senator for New York.
It is believed Ms McAleese would not have been able to stay in New York long enough to attend both parades.
Dublin Gay Pride chairperson Oisín O’Reilly welcomed the president’s decision.
“The exclusion of any groups from celebrating our national holiday abroad is deeply discriminatory and rooted in close mindedness; this is deeply un-Irish and something that we cannot allow to happen in the name of an event that is about celebrating Ireland’s rich cultural heritage, of which the LGBT community are a corner stone here in Ireland. We are delighted that President McAleese has turned down the invitation to act as Grand Marshall next year,” he said.
However, diary issues were highlighted by the president’s spokesperson.
“President McAleese attended the New York St Patrick’s Day parade in 2002 and was honoured to be considered as grand marshall for 2011. Unfortunately, due to scheduling constraints in a very busy final year in office, it is not possible for the President to travel to New York next March. The president has conveyed to the organisers her deep appreciation for the invitation, as well as her very best wishes for the success of the parade in this significant anniversary year,” the spokesperson said.
New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York is now being considered a likely replacement.