Gathering supporters reject criticisms
The founder of the US-based Irish Voice newspaper Niall O'Dowd also defended the initiative. He said Byrne had been unfair to the Gathering and insisted the connection between Ireland and its diaspora was strong.
“I was at the Notre Dame game in Dublin [when] 25,000 Notre Dame fans travelled to Ireland and got an overwhelming welcome from Irish people throughout the island,” he said. “Sure, there may have been cynics about the whole enterprise, but the genuine welcome went very deep with the Notre Dame fans.
“What I think the Gathering is doing is properly locating where people belong in Ireland.” He described the initiative as “genuine, not shamrocks and shillelaghs,” and said it goes into communities and shows genuine interest.
He admitted “there are people, and some politicians, who see the diaspora as a kind of money grubbing enterprise,” but added, “after 30 years in America” the gathering seemed like one of the most genuine Irish initiatives.
Mr O’Dowd said he disagreed with Byrne’s frustration over his role as Ireland’s cultural ambassador. Byrne stepped down from the position after two years and yesterday told Today FM he was “really disappointed the way all those contacts, all that hard work was just dropped and it really made me disillusioned and disappointed with this Government who go on about their love for culture, for arts and actually really don’t give a toss about it."
Mr O’Dowd said: “Byrne served as cultural ambassador for two years and did his damnedest to expand the cultural footprint of Ireland over here. Then the Irish Government abruptly pulled the funding, ending the experiment long before it should have.”
Sean Moriarty, a journalist with the Irish World community newspaper in London, said he agreed with Byrne and called the Gathering “a gesture”. He said his personal opinion is “what about 2014, what about 2015, and what about 2016… if you want to do something for emigrants all over the world, do something about the rising costs of flights, do something about the timing of flights.”
He added that it will probably be positive for Ireland, but will offer little for Irish emigrants who make regular trips home.
The Gathering received support yesterday from television and radio presenter Terry Wogan.
When asked on BBC Radio 4 whether the event was a "tourism wheeze", Wogan said: "Of course it is. It is an attempt to bring more people to Ireland to spend their money and enjoy themselves. The one thing that we can guarantee is that they will. The kind of welcome they will get will be like no other."