By John Byrne
12:11 AM CST, January 15, 2012
City officials have agreed to issue a permit for the South Side Irish Parade to be held again this March, despite concerns about security connected to the St. Patrick’s Day event that organizers shut down in 2009 after widespread drunken fighting and assaults on Chicago police officers.
The South Side Irish Parade Committee hopes to return the Beverly neighborhood event to its family-oriented roots while continuing to draw the massive crowds that, after the parade was launched in 1979, became a bonanza for local taverns and other Southwest Side businesses.
Organizers of the March 11 event are considering setting up checkpoints manned by private security guards, making the parade route along Western Avenue shorter and cracking down more forcefully on outdoor drinking in an effort to quell unruly behavior in nearby parks and residential streets, parade committee chairman Joseph Connelly said Saturday.
The group also hopes to control the presence of chartered buses, which in the parade’s final years became rolling bacchanals for booze-addled revelers from bars in Lincoln Park and college campuses throughout the Chicago region. At the least, Connelly said, those buses would be corralled in designated parking lots.
“If we’re allowed, we could have a couple bus drop-off points with a police presence, where they will be searched coming off the buses,” Connelly said. “If someone’s coming off a bus intoxicated, they could detain them or not allow them to go on to the parade.”
“We certainly don’t want them dumping their problems on our neighborhood,” he said.
Ald. Matt O’Shea, whose 19th ward includes the parade route, raised strong objections to a new parade permit, saying he isn’t convinced the committee has done enough to stop the problems that derailed the parade a few years back.
In a letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the alderman said he finds the group’s safety plan “sorely lacking.”
The parade, which began 33 years ago with a handful of children marching through the heavily Irish neighborhood, had by 2009 devolved into “public intoxication and lawlessness,” O’Shea wrote.
City Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein said he would grant the parade permit, but told the parade committee that it needs to improve its security plan.
O’Shea wants public hearings to allow area residents to vet the proposal.
“If suitable solutions cannot be reached I would hope that the parade committee would forgo a 2012 parade,” O’Shea said.
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