Gabriel shook up the Gathering

Anne-Marie Walsh

APPARENTLY there's no such thing as bad publicity – especially when you're trying to reach tens of millions of people.

Despite actor Gabriel Byrne criticising next year's Gathering 2013, senior tourism chiefs believe he has actually given the event an unexpected boost.

Irish Tourist Industry Confederation chief executive Eamonn McKeon put a positive spin on the star's negative comments about the year-long event which aims to attract members of the diaspora here on holidays.

He was speaking at the release of the latest figures that show a 2pc rise in US visitors last year, despite a 100,000 fall in tourists from our biggest market in Britain.

Mr Byrne, who previously served as cultural ambassador for Ireland in the US, caused controversy last month when he branded the Gathering a "scam" and claimed most Irish people do not "give a s***" about the diaspora.

He said the diaspora, particularly illegal immigrants, feel abandoned by the Government and Irish-Americans will not be "shaken down" for money.

When asked if Mr Byrne's description of the event would turn members of the diaspora off from travelling here, Mr McKeon said, "I doubt it very much".

"Some people are saying he did it a favour," he said, adding that the remarks had not halted the organisers.

"In fairness to Gabriel Byrne, I was accused of being a bit too hasty in my (initial) response to his comments," he said, adding he felt they were "harmless enough" and referred mainly to recent immigrants.

However, he described Byrne's remark that Dubliners used to laugh at American tourists as "strange".


"We have moved on from the days of Burberry coats outside the Gresham," he said.

Speaking at the tourist confederation's end of year review, he predicted that the Gathering would attract more than 300,000 visitors next year and could deliver a 5pc growth in overseas arrivals.

He said it should not be viewed as just a "one-year wonder", but could run again like Scotland's similar 'Homecoming' event.

Overall, there were 6.5 million overseas visitors last year, unchanged since the previous year.

There was a 2pc increase in visitors from mainland Europe and North America, but this did not compensate for a 4pc drop in British visitors.

Demand in the peak summer months was disappointing, with visitor numbers down 7pc in July and 1pc in August compared with a year earlier.

The federation blamed an unfavourable exchange rate and the London Olympics for keeping British visitors away.

It said travel by Irish tourists at home was "reasonable" despite the bad weather and fragile economy, but they did not spend as much and trips were shorter and less frequent.

Dublin and other popular destinations such as Killarney, Galway city, and Westport enjoyed a rise in the number of visitors but other areas "continued to feel the chill winds of recession".

The federation said a "modest recovery" in tourist numbers is under way and it aims to achieve up to 11pc growth from North America next year, mainly due to the Gathering, and up to 6pc growth from Britain through "sharper" marketing to under-35s.