By Carmel Crimmins
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Irish actor Gabriel Byrne sees nothing wrong in harnessing art for Ireland's greater economic good.
A Dubliner living in New York, Byrne was appointed Ireland's cultural ambassador in 2009 with a remit to foster greater artistic relations between Ireland and the United States.
The role is a key part of an Irish government strategy to use the country's cultural heritage to help rebuild its battered economy.
"Culture and commerce have always been uneasy bedfellows. The purpose here today is to see what common ground there is between the world of economics and the world of art," the 61-year-old told Reuters during a two-day conference in Dublin.
Ireland's Global Economic Forum is a Davos-style meeting that brings together leading members of Ireland's diaspora to brainstorm on how to ramp up the country's fragile recovery after a financial crisis and EU-IMF bailout.
Byrne, with his dark glasses and silk scarf, stands out amongst the other delegates, drawn mainly from the suited-and-booted world of business.
But he believes Ireland's cultural riches -- its poets, writers, musicians and actors -- are an important calling card for companies seeking a foot in the door overseas.
"I think artists lay out the carpet before businessmen, whether businessmen like to admit it or not," he said, speaking in the courtyard of Dublin Castle.
"You can't quantify the benefit of culture and art and drama and education in harsh, cold economic terms but in the long term there is no question about it whatsoever."
"Without Yeats, Synge, O'Casey, Joyce, Heaney and U2, the profile of Ireland would be much, much poorer without those people."
Since his appointment, which he combines with his "day job" as an actor, Byrne has curated the first Irish exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
While Ireland has become the poster child for austerity since tumbling into crisis in 2008, Byrne is not giving up his creature comforts.
Asked about his first-class flight from New York he replied:
"When Lenin came back from Finland to Moscow he took a first class carriage and when he got off at Moscow station someone said to him, 'I thought you were a communist, should you not be traveling first class?' and his answer was 'There should only be first class."
(Reporting by Carmel Crimmins)