ACTOR Gabriel Byrne has been dubbed ‘unpatriotic’ because of ‘outrageous’ comments he made about ‘The Gathering’, a government initiative to attract this country’s huge diaspora home for a slew of events next year.
Speaking at yesterday’s Westport Electoral Area Committee meeting, Cllr Ollie Gannon slammed the former Bracken and Glenroe actor who said on Today FM’s, The Last Word, that The Gathering 2013 was ‘a scam’ and that Irish-Americans were not receptive to being ‘shaken-down’ for money.
Mr Byrne, who served as Cultural Ambassador for Ireland in the US until the end of last year, told broadcaster Matt Cooper that many who left Ireland for the US felt abandoned by the government and, moreover, that the bridge between Ireland and the diaspora was broken.
However, the Cathaoirleach of Westport Town Council does not agree and categorically told yesterday’s meeting that both Minister for State, Michael Ring, and Taoiseach Enda Kenny ‘were working very hard in the UK and the United States’ to continue the links and make this venture work.
“For a guy who was working as a Cultural Ambassador these comments were a disgrace and he should be ashamed of himself,” Cllr Gannon said.
Fianna Fáil’s Cllr Margaret Adams, however, expressed concerns that ‘ordinary working emigrants’ may not be privy to the details of the various proposals for events. She also noted that ‘Americans liked to plan their holidays’ and that therefore the calendar of events would need to be available very soon.
“I am concerned that this initiative reaches out to everyone; we need to remember there is a lot of unemployment still in the US,” Cllr Adams said.
Earlier, Mayo County Council’s Padraig Philbin had outlined the details of a funding tranche available to groups organising Gathering events. The Gathering Ireland Local Community Fund aims to provide support to communities and groups who wish to organise activities or projects that will help attract international visitors to their area during 2013. The funding allocations – from €500 to €2,500 – will relate to the amount of overseas visitors the particular event or initiative delivers.
Town Manager, Martin Keating, said that a public meeting held in Westport had been ‘very successful’ and a number of ‘positive ideas’ were already being considered. They included an extension of both the St Patrick’s Day celebrations and the annual Reek Sunday pilgrimage at Croagh Patrick. Mr Keating also said that an event marking the legacy of pirate queen, Granuaile, would have Westport House as the lead partners.
In response to Cllr Margaret Adams’s earlier concerns, Mr Philbin said that good links had already been forged with many sporting and community organisations.
“RTÉ’s Homecoming show, which featured Jeanne Butler, targeted an Irish audience in the US. The most important thing to do is send out that invitation to people and groups,” Padraig Philbin said.
Mr Keating also said he hoped to hold a meeting with representatives of the hospitality industry to discuss the initiative.
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