Tadhg Kennelly has defended The Gathering initiative, in the wake of critical comments made by actor Gabriel Byrne.
Kennelly, who took part in a recent RTÉ television special to promote the initiative that aired last month, was speaking on the broadcaster’s Saturday Show last weekend.
The Listowel man said schemes such as The Gathering were important in bringing in business to small towns.
Byrne last week described the scheme as “a scam” and said that the bridge between Ireland and its people is broken.
His claims were later rejected by The Gathering’s project director and by the government but they have spurred debate about the project in Ireland and among its diaspora.
Asked for his view on Byrne’s criticism, Kennelly strongly backed the huge tourism push.
“What has changed over the years? Look, we’ve got a great country, we’ve got a lot of tourists that come to the country and we’re hoping they spend money in the country,” said Kennelly.
“We’ve got a lot of people that are from Ireland and just because they leave Ireland it doesn’t mean they leave their heritage behind them. There are a lot of [Irish] people in Australia and I know they’re very proud of where they come from. And I’m the exact same.
“I know in Listowel especially [how it contributes]. The Listowel Races or the Rose of Tralee … what it does for the town … a gathering like that or a week-long festival in Listowel, it keeps the businesses and all the shops going for three or four months because of that stuff,” he said.
“I think it’s a great initiative. And initiatives like these and Bord Fáilte [now known as Fáilte Ireland] are often criticised and I suppose in the current climate when things are very negative or what not.
“That’s his opinion … we’re good at two things in our country. Our tourism is fantastic and we’re good at exporting people. We’ve got so many people around the world, why not tap into that and try to help the economy?” he asked.
The Gathering aims to be the biggest tourism event ever held in Ireland, targeting 325,000 extra visitors and an additional €170m in revenue.
Ireland’s Minister for Tourism, Leo Varadkar, is in Sydney this week in part to promote the initiative.