Business Technology

Wednesday 20 November 2019

Web Summit founder Cosgrave lays into Government, says Dutch, French, Danes, Brits and Portuguese are way better at infrastructure planning

Paddy Cosgrave
Paddy Cosgrave
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

The co-founder of the Web Summit has accused the Government of "operating in a parallel universe" and being "disorganised and uncoordinated" in its approach to infrastructure planning and the Web Summit.

The accusations have emerged from correspondence between Paddy Cosgrave and the Department of the Taoiseach in the four weeks prior to the Web Summit announcing that it would leave Dublin for Lisbon in 2016.

"You're operating in a parallel universe where a jobs announcement or a photo opportunity at Web Summit is the biggest opportunity you see," Mr Cosgrave wrote to Nick Leddy, private secretary to the Taoiseach at the Department of the Taoiseach.

"At present, for whatever reason, there is clearly no appetite for real political engagement, no appetite to use Web Summit as a platform for Irish companies, as every other nation we work for sees it."

According to the correspondence, the Web Summit requested four specific issues: traffic, public transport, hotels and wifi.

The Web Summit wanted the government and state bodies such as Dublin City Council and An Garda Siochana put 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.

Read correspondence between the Web Summit and the Government here:

He also said that a plan that would discourage hotels to "gouge" visitors at "600pc-plus markups" was something that needed to be addressed.

Mr Cosgrave wrote that the Web Summit was not seeking any financial assistance directly from the government and would provide exhibition space to the value of €1m for the IDA and Enterprise Ireland.

"We need a plan for Dublin City. We don't want a penny," he wrote.

"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."

In response to Mr Cosgrave's emails, Mr Leddy and John Callinan, assistant secretary general at the Department of An Taoiseach, proposed further meetings and offered to "facilitate... engagement" with other state bodies, including Bord Failte and Dublin City Council.

"A high level task force will oversee and coordinate arrangements for engagement, with subgroups and mechanisms as needed for different strands such as logistics, engagement with attendees, political involvement etc," said a draft framework sent by Mr Callinan.

Mr Callinan also wrote that "it is easy to underestimate just what is involved in that. You will appreciate that there are many different agencies involved, each with their own reporting and governance structures."

However, Mr Cosgrave wrote back saying that the proposals lacked any substance and amounted to "tinkering at the edges".

"No minister has ever attended a meeting yet they all show up for photos at Web Summit," he wrote. "Meetings for 2015 have been left to committed civil servants, who realistically without real political will are powerless to initiate significant change.

"We've never succeeded in getting a single meeting with Dublin's City Manager, nor been invited to one, yet we're invited constantly to sit down with Prime Ministers across Europe. Over five years, we've been invited to more meetings in Number 10 Downing Street than to meetings in Leinster House."

"In Dublin, while press secretaries constantly reached out to our team requesting photo and speaking opportunities for Ministers, the British government had a cabinet minister quietly getting on with business in Dublin. No photos required. He wasn't looking for votes, he was drumming up business for British companies and the British economy at large."

"Other governments are cleaning up under your nose. How can you be outplayed by the British government in your own backyard? Or by the Dutch, the French, the Danes? It's surreal."

Mr Cosgrave asked the government to think of the Web Summit in the same infrastructural terms as a sporting event.

"Ireland, from what I read, is attempting to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023," he wrote. "I believe you should think of the Web Summit as a mini Rugby World Cup for Technology. Even though it's far larger than Web Summit, you could apply a similar mindset to hosting a very large business conference."

Mr Cosgrave also released documentation showing some details from the rival bids for the Web Summit. The bid information is understood to also include proposals from the Portuguese government.

It included subsidised free transport for attendees, closed streets for some events, wifi provision and other infrastructural costs.

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