Varadkar defends The Gathering

 

Minister for Tourism Leo Varadkar hit out at critics of The Gathering next year, saying that contrary to the cynics, there was huge enthusiasm.

Opening a Tourism Ireland conference in Dublin this morning Mr Varadkar said "contrary to the views of the cynics and some who like to sneer, there really is absolutely huge enthusiasm for The Gathering among those overseas, particularly or Irish heritage".

The Government has issued an invitation to Ireland's 70 million strong diaspora to visit Ireland next year.

Mr Varadkar did not refer specifically to high profile criticism from actor Gabriel Byrne, who described The Gathering as a "scam" and an attempt to "shakedown" the diaspora "for a few quid".

Mr Varadkar said the Irish diaspora knew "better than anyone that the best chance we have of keeping our young people at home is to give them opportunities for employment".

But he said to generate jobs the State needed to generate business and revenue and doing this through tourism "was at the heart of The Gathering".

The Minister said he had "no shame at all" in seeking to promote jobs "through The Gathering or otherwise".

The conference was also told visitor numbers to Ireland from the US were approaching levels not seen since 2007, and there were hopes that the recent addition of extra capacity of the transatlantic routes would increase this next year.

European visitor numbers also rose last year and new strategy has begun prioritising Germany and France followed by Italy, the Nordics, Spain and the Netherlands.

The conference also heard Tourism Ireland's new website ireland.com; which was purchased from The Irish Times, would go live in the coming weeks and would carry tourism's message in at least 11 languages.