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Mayor Wants To Ensure Safe Return For South Side Irish Parade

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Bagpipers march in the 2009 South Side Irish Parade. Organizers shut down the parade after that year due to drunken violence among the crowd. Organizers plan a one-year trial of a new parade with a zero-tolerance policy on alcohol in 2012. (Credit: CBS)

Bagpipers march in the 2009 South Side Irish Parade. Organizers shut down the parade after that year due to drunken violence among the crowd. Organizers plan a one-year trial of a new parade with a zero-tolerance policy on alcohol in 2012. (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday he hopes the organizers of the South Side Irish Parade have taken the last three years to think about how to resume the parade, while making sure to avoid the alcohol-fueled mayhem that prompted the Beverly neighborhood to put a stop to the event after 2009.

“I’m hoping that those who took the two-year to three-year pause have used the time to think through about how to have a parade that honors their heritage and do it in a responsible way to the community they’re having the parade in,” Emanuel said Thursday. “That’s my hope and they have to work with, in this case, the Public Safety Committee to do that and … my assumption is they will.”

According to the Chicago Tribune, the Emanuel administration has sent a letter to parade organizers, asking for additional details about security plans for the parade and calling for a public meeting to discuss the parade.

The city has approved a parade permit for the March 11 event, despite the objections of local Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), who had previously voiced concerns about vague security plans for the parade.

Many local residents have also questioned the decision to bring back the parade, voicing concerns that security measures will be insufficient to avoid the drunken nightmare that the parade had become for local residents in the past few years of the event.

According to the Tribune, a permit will not be formally issued for the parade until the organizers prepay for city services that would be required for the event, such as installing barricades, parade route signs and police duties.

The South Side Irish Parade started in 1979, with a group of Beverly and West Morgan Park residents gathered up a small group of children to march through the community. Over the years, it grew to a massive parade along Western Avenue that dwarfed even the downtown St. Patrick’s Day parade in size.

But its popularity ultimately led to its downfall after 2009, as the parade morphed from a more traditional family-focused parade to a Mardi Gras-type event filled with raucous behavior as tens of thousands of people packed bars along the parade route and then spilled over into the neighborhood after the parade ended.

In its final few years, Beverly residents regularly complained about drunken parade goers fighting along the parade route, vomiting and urinating in people’s yards and, in many cases, having sex on residents’ lawns.

Parade organizers announced after the 2009 parade that they were not bringing it back in 2010, saying the event had become too large for the neighborhood and too difficult to keep under control with all the drinking that had become commonplace.

That year, there were 54 arrests, including one for an assault on a police officer.

By then, the parade was drawing hundreds of thousands of revelers each year. In 2010, the parade was replaced by a much-toned down festival of art exhibits, movies, Irish soda bread contests and live entertainment at the Beverly Arts Center.

Parade organizers, led by the city’s former Special Events Director, James “Skinny” Sheahan, have been organizing a new parade as a one-year trial run for 2012, vowing a zero-tolerance policy for alcohol use by anyone.

The bars along the parade route will be closed during the parade and organizers have promised to hire private security to set up a perimeter to keep out anyone carrying alcohol to the parade, including party buses that have brought in large groups of revelers in the past.

Emanuel said he is hopeful the new parade can go off as planned without the problems of the past.

“We are a city of … great diversity; ethnic, religious, racial, sexual orientation. And I’m happy that and I’m pleased that people can honor their own ethnic heritage,” Emanuel said.

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