Gathering co-funded 'Last Word' trip to NY
The Gathering part-funded the visit to New York by Today FM’s Last Word programme on which actor Gabriel Byrne lambasted the tourism initiative as a “scam”.
The station yesterday confirmed that the Government-backed project aimed at encouraging the Irish diaspora to visit the country next year “co-funded” the costs. Presenter Matt Cooper, accompanied by a producer, is presenting the programme from New York for three days this week. Part of the deal is an on-air promotion or “sting”. The cost of the funding has not been disclosed.
On Monday’s programme, the New-York based actor, the star of Miller’s Crossing and The Usual Suspects, sharply criticised The Gathering, saying it was designed to “shake down” the Diaspora for a few quid. He described Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s speech at the launch of project in the US as “slightly offensive”.
The Taoiseach rejected Byrne’s criticism saying the event was a “very credible national proposition to invite people back here to Ireland for 2013, not just for the purposes of traditionally hoping that they will spend money but to have an enjoyable, beneficial experience’’.
Minister for Tourism Leo Varadkar told The Irish Times that the 30,000 people who arrived for the Notre Dame versus Navy American football game showed how successful the project could be. “Mr Byrne is welcome to his views but I don’t agree with him.”
Later on Today FM Mr Varadkar described Mr Byrne as popular with “women of a certain age”.
Project director Jim Miley said The Gathering was aimed at a much bigger target group than first-generation Irish exiles.
“There is a vast diaspora of 70 million people, with connections with Ireland that are very complex. We have not reached out to them in the past.”
Representatives of the Irish-American community politely disagreed with Mr Byrne’s assessment.
Ray O’Hanlon, the editor of the Irish Echo, which is carrying advertisements for The Gathering, said he fully respected Mr Byrne’s point of view but most people recognised The Gathering as a commercial venture aiming to boost tourism.
Noreen Bowden, who runs the blog globalirish.ieand has advocated for political representation for Irish people who live abroad, was cautiously optimistic.
“I guess I have some mixed feelings about it,” she said. “There’s so much goodwill amongst ordinary people for the diaspora. I really think that’s a wonderful aspect of it.”
Overseas visitors: The numbers