THE chairwoman of the Government's The Gathering has quit in a major blow to minister Leo Varadkar.
Ann Riordan's exit was a "natural development" for the project, a spokesman for Leo Varadkar claimed today.
She stepped down as chairwoman of the board last night.
The Gathering is an initiative for 2013 aimed at encouraging people to return to Ireland for 12 major events, including Bloomsday and St Patrick's Day and the ERC Heineken Cup final.
A spokesman for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport said the resignation was "quite a natural development" as the project has been now brought to a "certain stage".
It is "now focusing on the domestic side of things", with Ms Riordan, formerly Microsoft's top executive in Ireland, already having "done a lot of work steering it through the corporate stage".
"It's a natural progression, really. She has been liaising with the corporate partners, some fairly high profile ones," the spokesman said.
The board has worked with a number of corporate partners and had an international launch through the various Government agencies.
The focus now is on the domestic festival, building attractions around it and "getting the community side of things up and running", the spokesman said.
While the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport oversees the project, it is being operated through Failte Ireland. The spokesman said there has not been any downgrading of the board.
A new chairperson will now be sought, he added.
"We have oversight of the project but it's largely managing itself at this stage," he said.
Mr Varadkar said he was calling to the Irish diaspora as well as those with a gra for Ireland to visit during one of the big events planned.