Web Summit wars: Row with Gov't escalates as it emerges organisers got over €871k in fees
Published 16/10/2015 | 02:30
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his officials stand accused of a "disorganised and uncoordinated" approach to planning over the loss of the Web Summit.
In an increasingly bitter war of words, the Government sources claim the Web Summit's decision to ditch Dublin for Lisbon was a "commercial" one.
The Taoiseach's office has also hit back claiming the Web Summit received more than €725,000 in fees paid by the IDA and Enterprise Ireland over a three year period.
Independent.ie can reveal that the total figure spent by state agencies on Web Summit services was €871,000.
Speaking on RTE’s Morning Ireland Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe said the sum was in return for merchandising space and advertising space.
He said the RDS had hosted events that had attracted more people than the Web Summit, citing the Young Scientist Exhibition and the Horse Show. He said successful traffic management plans had been delivered for those events and would have been delivered for the Web Summit.
"We paid for something and we got something in return, that’s the way taxpayers’ money should be spent.”
Asked why Government ministers had not held bilateral meetings with the Web Summit, Mr Donohoe said that both he and Taoiseach had attended the event, and that there were State bodies whose function was to do that work and that Ministers engaged with those bodies.
He said the Government now had to look at how it could attract the Web Summit back.
The summit's founder Paddy Cosgrave's criticised the Government after releasing a series of emails with Taoiseach's Department revealed a damning lack of interest in the event.
"We need a plan for Dublin City, we don't want a penny," wrote Mr Cosgrave in late September.
"Even an indicative plan and we would stay. But after three years of asking and asking, we still don't even have one single page outlining even a basic committed plan for the city.
"What little is being done for this year is unfortunately disorganised, uncoordinated and in many instances not guided by evidence."
Mr Cosgrave outlined four main problems affecting the city for conferences such as the Web Summit. These were traffic management, public transport, hotels and wifi.
He said the Government and State bodies, such as Dublin City Council, should consider putting in place traffic management plans "similar to that for soccer and rugby matches".
"The city came to a standstill," said Cosgrave of the event in 2015, "in particular all roads leading to and from the RDS. 10,000 attendees ended up having to walk back to their hotels".
Mr Cosgrave also criticised Dublin hotels' "gouging" of visitors by "up to 600pc" and said the cost of wifi would rise to over €1m "when it's free and reliable in other cities".
In response, officials in the Department of the Taoiseach offered to convene meetings where "mechanisms" and "engagement" could be explored.
"A high-level task force will oversee and coordinate arrangements for engagement, with subgroups and mechanisms as needed for different strands such as logistics, and engagement with attendees," said a document sent by the Department.
The Department also said extra buses and signage would be provided for this year's event.
Mr Cosgrave said the Web Summit had never requested any financial help.
"At present, for whatever reason, there is clearly no appetite for real political engagement," he said.
"You're operating in a parallel universe where a jobs announcement or a photo opportunity at Web Summit is the biggest opportunity you see."
Tánaiste Joan Burton also defended the government’s role in dealing with the organisers of Web Summit.
“The Taoiseach’s Department as I understand it, made every effort to assist. It’s a commercial venture at the end of the day and the people who organise it felt they wanted to go someplace else and that they got the deal they were looking for,” she said. “I think the Government offered a huge amount of active support to the Web Summit, the Taoiseach in particular”.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny spoke to Independent.ie at the Web Summit last year and highlighted how a changing Dublin and the event complemented each other.
"Dublin is a very cosmopolitan city now, so it's a great place for this type of event," he said.
"We've got the technology to meet any challenge," he added.