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Alderman Pushing For Crackdown On Drunks At South Side Irish Parade

CHICAGO (STMW) -- Inebriated "idiots" once accused of "hijacking" the South Side Irish Parade would pay a heavy price if they dare to do it again, under a crackdown advanced Thursday by a City Council committee.

At the behest of local Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th), who helped the parade make a family-oriented comeback last year, the Police Committee agreed to throw the book at those caught drinking on the public way within 200 ft. of a parade in progress.

The minimum fine for adults would increase five-fold — from $100 to $500. The maximum fine would double — from $500 to $1,000. The alternative to the higher fines would be up to six months in jail.

Adults who relieve themselves in public within 200 ft. of a parade in progress would face similar fines and anywhere from five to 10 days behind bars.

Minors caught drinking in the shadows of a parade would be slapped with $500 fines or required to perform 25 hours of community service.

The crackdown comes nearly one year after the South Side Irish parade made a triumphant return from a three-year hiatus caused by public drunkenness and arrests.

The parade committee spent heavily to rid the parade of its seedier elements. Private security was hired to work with Chicago Police, set up checkpoints, confiscate liquor and enforce a "zero-tolerance policy" for open alcohol.

Passengers were banned from bringing booze on Metra Rock Island trains. North Side bars were discouraged from chartering buses. Buses that did roll up were corralled into drop-off points. Leaflets were distributed to local residents outlining the new rules. A hotline, with text-messaging support, was distributed to neighbors to report problems.

The result was a family-oriented event that celebrated Irish heritage in a way that resulted in only a handful of arrests hours after and blocks away from the parade. Why the crackdown after all of that success?

"To make sure that a bad element doesn't come back to our neighborhood. To make sure this event stays a celebration of faith, family and heritage," O'Shea said.

"The South Side Irish Parade Committee was very aggressive last year in trying to prevent the parade from turning into what it was the last several years…Along the parade route, all you saw were smiling faces and children and wagons and strollers. We want to do everything we can to make sure that's how it remains. I don't want to sit on my hands and trust that an element that ruined this parade [won't] come back. I'm a lot more comfortable now. Frankly, I'm looking forward to March 10."

Joe Connelly, co-chair of the 2013 South Side Irish Parade Committee, pushed for the safeguards.

"We worked so hard last year to bring the parade back in a safe and family-friendly way. We want to make sure we take no steps backward . . . We don't want to take any chances seeing that happen," Connelly said.

"This ordinance further reinforces the type of parade we plan to have for the neighborhood."

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2013. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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