Gabriel Byrne and the Gathering 'shakedown'


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The Story

‘Gabriel Byrne slams the Gathering’

By Ronan McGreevy

on irishtimes.comon Tuesday

The Irish actor Gabriel Byrne has dismissed the Gathering 2013 initiative as “a scam”.

Byrne, who previously served as the cultural ambassador for Ireland in the US, said many who left Ireland for the US felt abandoned by the Government – and that the bridge between Ireland and its diaspora was broken.

He also said Irish Americans were not receptive to being “shaken down” for money.

Speaking on The Last Word on Today FM today, which was broadcast from New York, Byrne said the Taoiseach’s speech launching the Gathering was “slightly offensive”.

“Most people don’t give a shit about the diaspora [in Ireland] except to shake them down for a few quid.

“The other day I was talking to a group of people. One of them was an illegal immigrant. His father died, he couldn’t get home. He feels abandoned by the Irish Government. He feels an alien. He can’t go back.

“Then I talked to two kids, a girl and a boy who were forced to emigrate because there are no jobs. And they blame the incompetence and the gangsterism of the Government for being forced to emigrate.”

Later in the week, we published a story (above) revealing that the Gathering had part-funded the visit to New York by Today FM’s Last Word programme, on which Byrne made his comments

The Gathering in a nutshell

The Gathering is a Government-backed, year-long festival in which members of the Irish diaspora and anyone with an interest in Ireland are encouraged to visit the country during 2013.

Instead of holding new events the Gathering will sponsor hundreds of pre-existing festivals and events throughout the year. From an initial core budget of €5 million the Government hopes to attract an extra 325,000 visitors and generate €200 million in tourism revenue.

Organisers have also pushed the idea of small scale gatherings which, according to the official website, “can be as little as you inviting back an old school friend to visit Ireland in 2013, or your local GAA club asking Toronto GAA to come over for a match.”

Agree with Byrne

'It seems we've just become a nation of marketeers with little content of value'


Mr Byrne is spot on. The search for one’s roots IS a sacred one. It should be kept that way, not transformed into a piggy bank or a way to obtain extra income. And the PR-toned reply by Mr Miley I heard on rte.ietoday is hollow and does not honour at all the Irish who left the country.

Tip for Mr Miley: try giving the people Mr Byrne talked to (the youngsters that had to leave because there were no jobs) an Irish podium during the Gathering. Talk about the issues you’re avoiding today. If you actually want the Gathering to be a success, then make THOSE issues a priority in the events.


Rip-off Ireland is still alive and well, only now it has to target a different audience as the locals are austerity-ed out! Ripping off tourists will have no longterm benefits.


I would use the adjectives “crass”, “shameless”, “cynical” and “pathetic” to describe the Gathering, which should actually be called “The Collection”. As an Irish entrepreneur in the diaspora, they’re not getting a penny of my hard-earned money. I’d prefer to write a cheque to the Saint Vincent de Paul.


A genuine effort to reconnect with the diaspora would be very welcome. Most people I’ve spoken to regarding the Gathering consider it superficial and desperate. I would rather invite my relations back under normal circumstances than to have some contrived Government-sponsored fundraising event.


It is indeed very tacky to go looking for Americans of Irish blood to come back to the old country when we are looking for tourists from anywhere. It’s shamefully superficial and typical of this government’s lack of dignity. Why don’t Enda Kenny and co . . . reduce their disgustingly high wages instead of trying to give a fake welcome to Irish Americans.


The certificate of Irishness is another example of how the diaspora are taken for a ride: €40 for a piece of paper . . . The “certificate of Irishness” should be something meaningful: like a visa waiver, or an exemption to college fees, or an entitlement to vote for a Seanad seat. The State needs to show the diaspora some respect – not just milk them. There’s only so much of this that people will take.

Aoife Elizabeth Butler

“The Gathering” is nothing but a term put on a phenomenon that already occurs naturally.

People travel to Ireland because people want to travel to Ireland, whether they are Irish or not; and “Gathering” or no “Gathering” that will not change – unless, of course, people feel they are being ripped off, taken advantage of, or not seeing the true Ireland they went to see.

A downturn in the global economy may impact the numbers travelling but some undefined “project” or “initiative” labelled “The Gathering” is not going to “save Ireland”.

Yvonne O’Reilly

Gabriel is like the guy who said the emperor is wearing no clothes . . . everything he says is true. Our culture, art and creativity, our innate and spontaneous friendliness is being cynically employed as a marketing tool to bring in a few more quid.


Top-level chugging for Ireland, I guess. If there’s one thing worse than being robbed, it’s being robbed at a professionally designed event engineered for just that purpose.


It’s shameful to see “Irish” being reduced to little more than a marketing-scam term and exploited by its own people.

It seems we’ve just become a nation of marketeers with little content of value. As Gabriel Byrne says, the diaspora are neglected, and Arts in Ireland is equally being trashed, seen as little more than another hollow marketing tool.


Unfortunately I have to agree with Gabriel Byrne. The very fact that the Gathering is being run by Tourism Ireland says it all.

If the government was serious about engaging with our diaspora they would first give the vote to Irish citizens living abroad. The reason the Government is afraid of giving voting rights to the diaspora is because the diaspora wouldn’t vote for the incumbent government/opposition cartel.


Here is a quote from Minister Varadkar, speaking at the launch of the Gathering, as reported, in this paper, March 8th , 2012: “The aim is to bring in an additional 300,000 or so extra visitors to Ireland that year, which would bring an extra €200 million in revenue into the economy . . .”

Anyway you paint it that looks like a €200 million shakedown to me. Well done Mr Byrne for stating the blindingly obvious.

Disagree with Byrne


Nobody is forced to emigrate and only those with serious cash can afford the process involved in emigration.

The logistics involve a fair cash outlay and real skills, and the genuine poor do not have these skills or money to simply move to some other nation.

I recall many such efforts like The Gathering over the six decades I have lived through. They come and go and if they help tourism so be it!


Ultimately the more tourists that visit Ireland, it will help keep people in jobs and help pay their mortgages and reduce emigration


Gabriel Byrne’s comments are arrogant and opinionated. Who is he to say that “the bridge” between the Irish islanders and the Irish diaspora is broken?

The Irish media regularly reports on diasporic links, and runs documentaries on the Irish abroad – not to mention the countless Irish regularly in contact with the Irish abroad?

Byrne’s tirade just shows what a poor choice he was as cultural ambassador.

Daniel Duggan

These comments are the most concentrated whine-and-whinge session I have read in this paper for some time. No one is forcing people to visit Ireland, it’s just a suggestion.

Person behind the comment

The comment

“As a volunteer with Ireland Reaching Out, I have a very different experience of what the Gathering means. Thousands of us throughout the world are working to meet the diaspora as they search for their roots. Our commitment will not end in December 2013.”

The commenter

Born to Irish parents in London, Martine Brennan grew up in Ireland, but went to London in the 1980s and lived there for 10 years. She returned to Co Kerry whenshe was expecting her first child.

Brennan is a volunteer with Ireland Reaching Out, which helps people abroad to find their Irish roots. The organisation is building parish databases to help people around the world find connections back in Ireland. Brennan herself has benefited from the voluntary service, connecting with a cousin based in the US.

She welcomes the general idea of the Gathering (“It’s wonderful to invite people home. People often feel disconnected and don’t feel welcome”), but is concerned about its money-making motive.

Other opinions

Few Irish abroad feel desire to return home

I know no Irish who are living or working in other countries who feel abandoned or are not content with their lot. Very few feel the urgent desire or need to return home except for visits.

The Gathering sounds like a desperate begging bowl, but at least it is something. Why condemn the country for doing nothing, on the one hand, and then condemn when some effort is being made?

– James O’Sullivan

I have a lot of respect for Gabriel Byrne as an actor. I have very little respect for people who put Ireland down. Some would say paying money to see people strut around a stage or a screen set is a scam. Yet we do so all the time.

– Michael O’Neill

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