Irish president Michael D Higgins has defended actor Gabriel Byrne, who received criticism for his controversial remarks about The Gathering. Earlier this month, Byrne called The Gathering a "scam."

The president called the film star a "magnificent Irish person" who wants the tourism initiative to have a deeper connection to the diaspora.

“I looked at the full transcript of what he said, and what Gabriel was saying was that he wishes very much The Gathering to be a success but he wants it to have depth,” he said.

Speaking during a three-day trip to Liverpool and Manchester, Higgins called Byrne a personal friend.

“I do hope as well that the reaction to what Gabriel has said is that people are fair to Gabriel,” said the president.

“Gabriel Byrne is a magnificent Irish person who has worked for Ireland and worked beyond his own self.

“He is a star but beyond all of that I remember so clearly all he has done as cultural ambassador and how much he has done for Irish film and continues to do so.

“He’s actually making a film in Ireland at the moment and it has brought investment to Ireland.

“My own view about it is that The Gathering is a great opportunity for those who have been planning to come to Ireland. If they come in 2013 they will see a very special effort being made, not only in upgrading all of the festivals but with new celebratory aspects of Irish heritage available to them,” he said.


Dublin actor and former cultural ambassador Gabriel Byrne