Gathering supporters reject criticisms
A claim by former cultural ambassador Gabriel Byrne that the Gathering project is a “scam” was rejected by organisers today.
Byrne criticised the Government’s flagship tourism programme which aims to bring 325,000 visitors to Ireland next year, saying it amounted to a “shakedown” of the Irish diaspora. Byrne also said Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s speech launching it recently had not gone down well in Irish-America.
Speaking on Today FM’s The Last Word with Matt Cooper yesterday, Byrne said Irish-Americans were seen only as tourists to be milked for a “few quid”, and most Irish people did not understand the spiritual connection the diaspora felt with Ireland.
"Most people don’t give a shit about the diaspora except to shake them down for a few quid. I remember when I was growing up in Dublin, those buses would pull up and those people in Burberry coats would be laughed at because they'd say 'Here come the Yanks looking for their roots'."
This morning, Mr Kenny said the Gathering is "a very credible, national proposal for 2013 for Irish people and for those who want to be associated with Ireland to come back some time during 2013.”
Project director Jim Miley this morning denied the plan was a shakedown, and said while Byrne was “a man we all know and love, and he has his opinions - they are one man’s opinions”.
Mr Miley cited the example of the Navy versus Notre Dame game at the Aviva stadium in Dublin, attended by about 35,000 people – mostly Americas. “The one thing you couldn’t find in [that] city that week or weekend was an ounce of cynicism or an ounce of people feeling that they were ripped off.”
Mr Miley said he hoped Byrne’s comments would not start a backlash against the project and noted Irish people have a great history of being “reasonably" cynical.
“I would hope it doesn’t [start a backlash]. The indications we are getting on social media and elsewhere are pretty positive,” he told RTÉ's Morning Ireland. Mr Miley said it would be a mistake to “paint the diaspora as one [cohesive] unit of 70 million-plus people”.
“First generation Irish who left in the last couple of years are very different to the people who went to Argentina in the in the mid-1800s and who are seventh or eighth generation [Irish],” Mr Miley said.
Mr Miley said the purpose of the project was to get the country to think about its emigrants and create a new template for interacting with them.
This evening Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar said “the response to the Gathering has been really great in America" and added “a huge amount of work is being done really to connect with the Irish overseas.”
He described Byrne as “popular with women of a certain age group” and said “it’s easy to knock things… but what we’re trying to do here with the Gathering is something really good.”