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President defends friend Byrne in Gathering row

PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins has sprung to the defence of actor Gabriel Byrne following his negative comments about The Gathering tourist initiative.

The President described the actor as a "very fine ambassador for Ireland" and called on people to be fair to a man who has worked continuously for the country.

The 'Usual Suspects' star caused controversy when he described the events of next year as a "scam" and equated it to a "shake down" of the diaspora for money.

The comments met with anger from the organisers of The Gathering.

In a passionate defence of his friend yesterday, the President said he had read a full transcript of what the actor had said and said Mr Byrne had called for the events to have depth.

"I know Gabriel Byrne as a friend and somebody who is just a very fine ambassador for Ireland," he said.

"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 all he has done for Ireland, and he continues to do so."

Mr Higgins is in the northwest of England on his third trip to the UK since taking office and yesterday laid a wreath at a memorial for those who had died during the famine.

Accompanied by his wife Sabina, he met the Lord Mayor of Liverpool as well as local Irish people in the city, which has seen large numbers of Irish emigrants.

Last night, Mr Higgins spoke at the University of Liverpool in a lecture entitled 'Liverpool and its Irish Migrants' about the Irish population in the city.

"We must never forget the suffering of the victims of the famine, including those who perished en route to this city or shortly after arrival," he said.

Irish Independent