Tuesday 30 August 2016

Paul Allen: Gabriel Byrne has totally missed the point about The Gathering

Published 07/11/2012 | 10:23

Damned if we do, and damned if we don’t. That must have been the though running through Enda Kenny’s mind as his ears were stung from Gabriel Byrne’s tongue-lashing.

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The Hollywood star lambasted King Kenny and the Government’s marketing centrepiece for the tourism industry next year, The Gathering, which aims to bring an extra 325,000 visitors to Ireland.

Rubbing even more salt into the wounds was the news that The Gathering had actually part-funded Today FM’s Last Word programme’s visit to New York on which actor Gabriel Byrne lambasted the tourism initiative as a “sham”. From Byrne’s perspective it was probably tantamount to shooting a man with his own gun.

The acclaimed actor has made his living creating dramas, but his role in this charade was no Oscar-winning performance. Yes, it was full of passion and came from the heart, but in the end Byrne simply lost the plot.

The Gathering is little more than a global PR and advertising campaign. Indeed, in a time of beleaguered budgets, it is a clever ploy to try and boost much needed tourism revenue. So rather than being an attempt to unscrupulously profit from Irish Americans who, according to Byrne are fed up with being “shaken down”, it is merely a tourism campaign — no more or no less. It is, as they say, what it is.

Byrne is right that “the bridge between the diaspora and the people is broken”. Indeed, it is questionable whether a bridge ever existed at all. Once people leave these shores we tend to turn our backs on them. That needs to change. But The Gathering has never been about trying to make up for years of neglect. It is, however, a beginning. And while next year will see whether The Gathering works to its full potential, it has already been successful.

In September it helped host the American Football game between Notre Dame and Navy in the Aviva Stadium, which saw 33,000 people travel to Ireland. This was the largest movement of American citizens during peacetime for one event. The day following the game was Dublin Airport’s busiest since it opened in 1940 and the visitors who travelled to see this unique sporting event spent an estimated €100m-250m in the Irish economy.

And rather than feeling as if they had just been “shaken down”, many extended their stay in Ireland for up to two weeks travelling around the country and soaking up their Celtic origins.

But it is not all about shaking shamrocks and being proud to be Irish. The historic game also attracted a Who’s Who from corporate America’s leading companies, which included nine of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies, more that 50pc of world leading financial services firms, 17 of the top 25 medical devices companies, eight of the world’s leading ICT companies and 10 of the internet’s top companies.

So I don’t think the Irish people, the Irish government or, indeed, Enda Kenny should be making any apologies for trying to forge such links. Do you, Mr Byrne?

Paul Allen is managing director of Paul Allen and Associates PR

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