BY MICHAEL RICONDA
NEW CITY – Members of the Rockland County legislature, County Executive Ed Day, and others representing the county’s Irish-American population held a press conference on Wednesday reiterating their opposition to the local sale of t-shirts which many consider anti-Irish.
The apparel, which are sold at locations such as Spencer Gifts in the Palisades Center and Walmart in anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day, are argued to unfairly characterize the Irish as drunkards. In spite of longstanding condemnation, the stores have continued to sell the merchandise for several years.
Legislator Patrick Moroney, who is sponsoring a resolution condemning the sale of the shirts, hats and other items, explained that though great strides had been made since days when the Irish were considered second-class citizens, prejudice was still visible in the merchandise.
“We haven’t come far enough,” Moroney said.
Moroney also announced he would be pursuing the creation of a committee to examine the legality of the sales. Messages on apparel which communicate a particular ideological viewpoint are normally considered Constitutionally-protected speech, though it is unclear whether the shirts would fit that standard.
Though the matter is primarily an issue to be addressed by the legislature, Day explained that combating stereotypes was a job for every member of county government. He went on to compare the messages on the clothing to offensive jokes about blacks on Martin Luther King Day or about Puerto Ricans during the Puerto Rican Day Parade.
“It’s important the government be united on this one issue,” Day stated. “Somehow, the Irish are fair game.”
The event drew a strong turnout from the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish-American community organization and advocacy group. Hibernians National President Brendan Moore explained the controversey could be interpreted as a lesson that all communities are prone to stereotypes.
“It is so, so important to us to reflect on what’s going on around us for nothing more than profit in stores,” Moore said.
Memorializing resolutions against the sale of the merchandise have appeared on an annual basis in the legislature. A similar resolution to the one up for review was passed in 2013.