ACTOR Gabriel Byrne has conceded that his description of The Gathering as a "shakedown" of the diaspora may have been "too strong a word".
But he stands over the majority of his remarks that caused huge controversy in November when he criticised the government initiative.
He famously said Taoiseach Enda Kenny's speech launching The Gathering was "slightly offensive" and that "most people didn't give a sh*t about the diaspora except to shake them down for a few quid".
But speaking at the weekend, the Dublin-born actor, pictured, claimed he was surprised his remarks got such a reaction. In his first interview since the controversy, Byrne said he was speaking from experience.
"I wouldn't take back anything that I said. I have lived in America since 1987, I understand how complex that group of people is," he said in reference to the diaspora.
"What I was saying was, 'This is the reaction that I have received about The Gathering'.
"They're an incredibly complex group. Emigrants have a tremendous spiritual connection to this country. If you're going to have a relationship with the diaspora, you have to nurture it, you have to take care of it, you have to tend it, you have to pay attention to it."