Uncertainty remains as web summit comes to a close
The possibility of a future return to Dublin for the web summit remained unclear, as the 3-day event drew to a close at the RDS. This is in the backdrop of allegations and counter-allegations from both the co-founders and the government about who was to blame for the sequence of events.
The international event is set to move to Lisbon in Portugal for three years, but co-founder Patrick Cosgrove, has refused to rule in or out a return to Ireland. It is believed that the Portuguese authorities paid in the region of €1.3 million per year to secure the summit. It was stipulated by Mr. Cosgrove that the main reason behind the move to Lisbon was a realisation that the summit had outgrown far beyond what they had considered possible when it was set up 5 years ago. The scale of the growth meant that it had to look elsewhere to meet their needs.
When making his final address at the summit, Mr. Cosgrove stated “Dublin will always be in our hearts,” he said, adding that Ireland will always play a role in what his company creates around the world. He thanked the “incredible community in the city” who he said had given time, resources and had been incredibly supportive, adding that without them the event would not have been possible.
The loss of this event is seen as being a major dent to Ireland’s international business reputation and an embarrassment for the government, who have been subjected to major criticism since this was announced on 23rd September. A last minute intervention by Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, failed to have the desired effect.
Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton said: “This has been a very successful Irish company. It started from very small beginning five years and it has now become a truly international success. The Minister for Skills, Research and Innovation Damien English added “We’re lucky that we managed to keep it in Ireland for so long. It won’t stay in Lisbon forever either … You export your best products and services.”
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin countered saying “that the summit is worth millions to the economy and more in potential foreign direct investment and he asked if the Government could have done more to salvage the summit”. John Deasy, Fine Gael TD for Waterford added “This country is not yet in a position where we can afford to lose this kind of business. Why were other countries allowed the opportunity to poach this summit? It is clear we did not take the organisers of the Web Summit seriously when they threatened to pull out.”
The web summit last year had been criticised when its Wi-Fi access had gone down after the first day last year, and also due to traffic congestions around the RDS and expensive accommodation for guests staying in the city. This began to sow the seeds of discourse between the two parties. The RDS arranged for a third party to solve the Wi-Fi issues for this year. It was the apparent lack of commitment on the part of the government to solve the problems of congestion, public transport and hotels that forced the web summit to seek an alternative location. London and Amsterdam, along with Lisbon, were the main cities believed to have been in discussions with them. This was brought to light by the publication of a series of e-mail conversations between Mr. Cosgrove and representatives of Mr. Kenny.
For their part, the Irish Hotel Federation (IHF) released a statement defending its position on prices. “We met and corresponded with the organisers, proposing full access to a dedicated facility for block booking rooms across Dublin. The facility would have provided the organisers with access to advance booking rates for thousands of hotel rooms at very competitive prices,”
The publication of these conversations, lead to claim and counter-claim, by both sides before the summit begun. The government stated that the decision to move had already been made prior to them entering into negotiations and that frustrations aired by the web summit were to disguise this. The summit co-founders for their part stated that chances to exploit the presence of international companies and visitors to the summit were passed up in favour of photo opportunities. It was also claimed that the government were using this was a smokescreen for more serious problems elsewhere in the economy.
Present with Mr. Cosgrove, when he was delivering his final speech, was a 16-person delegation from Portugal. The country’s deputy Prime Minister, Paulo Portas, praised the work done by the web summit over the years for their growth in numbers. He went on to set out the cause for his capital city saying “In Lisbon you have good facilities, you have good prices, you have a city committed to innovation and (a) startup environment,”
Quite what the future holds regarding coming back to Ireland remains to be seen. Mr. Cosgrove and his fellow co-founders, do still have a lot of contacts built up in Dublin and has maintained good relations with them. It is important that whoever happens to be in government in three years’ time, be willing to reach out to them. Whether that is Mr. Kenny or otherwise.