The Irish actor Gabriel Byrne has slammed The Gathering 2013 initiative as 'a scam'.
He was speaking on “The Last Word with Matt Cooper” radio program on Today FM. The Last Word is broadcasting live from New York this week.
Byrne, who previously served as Ireland’s Cultural Ambassador, said many who left Ireland for the US feel abandoned by the Government - and that the bridge between Ireland and its Diaspora is broken.
He also said Irish Americans are not receptive to being 'shaken down' for money.
Speaking on The Last Word on Today FM, Gabriel Byrne described Prime Minister Enda Kenny'sspeech launching The Gathering as 'offensive’.
“People are sick to death of being asked to help out in what they regard as a scam.”
However, Joe Byrne, Tourism Ireland Executive Vice President for North America, has strongly defended The Gathering.
Speaking to Irish Central he stated, “Respectfully I have to disagree with nearly everything Gabrielsays: Visitors from the U.S. to Ireland do not feel "shaken down" - far from it, in fact Irish people don't laugh at U.S. visitors but welcome them sincerely and warmly.
“Irish Americans do not feel the Gathering is a scam, most have bought into it enthusiastically. I do agree with Gabriel that many in the Diaspora have a deep spiritual connection to the island of Ireland.”
Gabriel Byrne however claimed the Diaspora link was broken. “I wish The Gathering the very best of luck but they have to understand that the bridge between the Diaspora and the people is broken and I tried to fix that for two years and it’s still broken.”
“Most people don’t give a s... 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.
“If your grandfather left during the Famine that’s a very sacred journey that you make back there but we laughed at it.
“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.
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“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 Ireland’s cultural ambassador at the end of 2011.
“It was a tremendous achievement what we did in two years.
“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.”
Meanwhile Enda Kenny defended The Gathering. "The Irish-American diaspora is reputed to be 35 million," he said. "That's about half of the worldwide diaspora of the Irish.
"The Gathering is a very credible, national proposal for 2013 for Irish people and those who want to be associated with Ireland, to come back some time during 2013 and be associated with a number of flagship projects, and so many others of a smaller variety.
"It's not just about wanting them to spend their money."
Click here to listen to the full interview.
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