The outspoken organiser of America’s largest Irish celebration has outraged firefighters in New York City by accusing them of turning up drunk to the St Patrick’s Day parade.

John Dunleavy, president of the parade’s organising committee, is a hate figure in the gay community for refusing to allow LGBT Irish-Americans to take part in the march down 5th Avenue on 17th March.

A gay presence has been banned since 1991.

Last year Mr Dunleavy compared gay people to prostitutes and neo-Nazis.

The New York event has historically attracted loud protest from gay rights groups.

In the 1990s several hundred arrests were made on average each year. Now, the figure does not typically exceed a dozen.

Now Mr Dunleavy has managed to offend New York City’s beloved firefighters, still regarded by many as the heroes of the attacks on the World Trade Centre on 11th September 2001.

They march with 343 flags, one for each of their colleagues who died that day.

He has moved them from the front to the middle of the parade, and accused many of drunkenness while in uniform in an interview with the weekly Irish Examiner USA.

“He’s made a huge mistake in trying to brand all New York City firefighters on something that he says he saw,” Uniformed Firefighters Association head Steve Cassidy told wjla.com. “It’s nonsense.”

Dunleavy is no stranger to controversial statements.

Last year, he reaffirmed his opposition to gay participation in the parade in an interview with the Irish Times:

“If an Israeli group wants to march in New York, do you allow neo-Nazis into their parade?

“If African Americans are marching in Harlem, do they have to let the Ku Klux Klan into their parade?

“People have rights. If we let the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organisation in, is it the Irish Prostitute Association next?”

A pressure group called Irish Queers will be demonstrating at this year’s parade.

John Francis Mulligan, an Irish Queer organiser, said:

“St. Patrick’s Day in New York has become a call to action against bigotry. It’s scandalous that Mayor Bloomberg marches each year. It’s scandalous that uniformed police and firefighters march in a blatantly anti-gay event.”

Around two million people are expected on the streets of New York for the parade tomorrow, but the most senior gay person in the city’s government will not be there.

New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn, who is openly gay, will be marching in Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day parade instead.

Quinn, a Democrat and second-most important city official after Mayor Bloomberg, said:

“My participation in Dublin’s parade is an opportunity to march openly as a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community, something we have not been able to do in New York City.

“I hope my participation in the Dublin march will send a message about the importance of inclusion,” she added.

Quinn was also critical of the decision to move the firefighters from the front of the parade:

“I think they should immediately move the fire department to the spot that they’ve historically been in the first place,” she said.

Tomorrow’s St Patrick’s Day parade will be the 246th in the city’s history.

Quinn, a potential candidate for the Mayor of New York City in 2009, is still hopeful that LGBT Irish-Americans will one day march.

When her attempts to negotiate a settlement last year failed, she said:

“I firmly believe that someday soon Irish LGBT New Yorkers will proudly and openly march up Fifth Avenue on St. Patrick’s Day.”