ACTOR AND FORMER Cultural Ambassador Gabriel Byrne has severely criticised The Gathering, calling it a scam and accusing Ireland of using the diaspora solely to boost tourism numbers.
Speaking on Today FM’s The Last Word, the Hollywood star said the bridge between Ireland and its diaspora is broken, explaining that many of those who left Ireland for the US feel abandoned by the Government.
Byrne described Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s speech launching The Gathering – which has been billed as the biggest tourism initiative in the history of the State – as “offensive”.
“People are sick to death of being asked to help out in what they regard as a scam…
“Most people don’t give a shit about the diaspora except to shake them down for a few quid…The Diaspora has a very powerful spiritual connection to the Island of Ireland.
“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”. Well, as far as I’m concerned one of the most sacred things you can do is look for your roots.”
He recounted a number of stories from people he had met recently, including one 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.”
Byrne stepped down as Cultural Ambassador at the end of 2011 and he feels the work that was achieved in the previous two years has now been undone.
“I 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,” he concluded.
The Gathering hopes to attract an extra 300,000 additional visitors to Ireland in 2013 by organising a series of events to showcase the best of Irish culture, tradition, business, sport, fun and fighting spirit.