Tourism Ireland hits back at Byrne criticism of 'The Gathering'

Gabriel Byrne

The head of Tourism Ireland has insisted that 'The Gathering' is a "spectacular celebration of what it means to be Irish".

It follows comments from actor Gabriel Byrne, who yesterday branded the year-long event as a "scam".

The actor and former cultural ambassador to the US believes the bridge between Ireland and its diaspora is broken, and said those with Irish heritage are not receptive to being "shaken down" for money.

Responding to Byrne's comments today, Niall Gibbons defended The Gathering.

"While he didn't share the optimism he did say it twice: 'I wish everyone connected with The Gathering, I really wish them well', he said, and he does hope that it works," he said.

"We've got great support in relation to The Gathering, particularly in the United States.

"We're not putting all our resources into it, but it is a big call. It's about tourism being part of an economic revival here, the number of people employed in tourism has now increased by 12,000 in the last 18 months, and there is real optimism for 2013 that we can push this number."

The actor also criticised Taoiseach Enda Kenny's speech launching the initiative, saying that Irish-Americans found it "slightly offensive".

The Taoiseach this morning defended the tourism initiative.

"The Irish-American diaspora is reputed to be 35 million," he said. "That's about half of the worldwide diaspora of the Irish.

"The Gathering is a very credible, national proposal for 2013 for Irish people and those who want to be associated with Ireland, to come back some time during 2013 and be associated with a number of flagship projects, and so many others of a smaller variety.

"It's not just about wanting them to spend their money."

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