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'Getting involved in a petty mudslinging match over the Web Summit is embarrassing'

A bitter war of words has erupted between the Web Summit and the Taoiseach’s office, but as the finger pointing continues this whole affair smacks of desperation and incompetence, writes Paul Allen.

Paul Allen

THE MUDSLINGING BETWEEN the Web Summit and the Taoiseach’s office got down right dirty this week as criticism over the Government’s handling of the debacle turned into an avalanche.

Rather than taking the high moral ground, Web Summit co-founder Paddy Cosgrove decided to twist the knife on Thursday by publishing email correspondence with senior officials in the Department of the Taoiseach in the weeks before the decision was taken to move the event from Dublin to Lisbon next year.

While lobby groups and opposition parties were heaping scorn on the government for losing this ‘jewel in the crown’ of tech events to Lisbon, the released correspondence gave a direct insight into how frustrated Web Summit organisers were with what they saw as sporadic communication from the government with regard to key concerns surrounding the hosting of the event.

Cosgrave further taunted the government by accusing officials of simply piggybacking on a “jobs announcement or a photo opportunity” at the Web Summit rather than engaging and supporting it on a meaningful level.

Government hit back 

The government, obviously irked by the accusations, hit back claiming that it was not a fact that it had not provided “a specific traffic plan, controls on hotel rates during the Summit, a solution to WiFi issues at the RDS, discounted public transport for attendees, and garda escort services for approximately ten VIP guests.” This is what was demanded by the Web Summit, but the government maintains the decision to quit Dublin for Lisbon was purely a “commercial decision” by the organisers.

The Taoiseach’s office went further by claiming the Web Summit received more than €725,000 in fees paid by IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland over a three year period.

Web Summit 2014 - Dublin Source: Brian Lawless

Surely Enda Kenny and his government have better things to do, like fixing the economy and solving the homeless crisis, rather than getting dragged into a silly squabble with an entrepreneur whose ego seems to have lost the run of itself.

Let’s get one thing straight — the Web Summit was great for Dublin while it lasted. You can be sure that Dublin and Ireland Inc will continue to recover and thrive when the circus moves on to Lisbon.

While Cosgrove deserves the plaudits for developing an event that has grown to such a scale, the fact that the government is getting involved in this petty mudslinging match is embarrassing.

The Web Summit survives in a vortex of opportunity driven by Cosgrove and Co. He is an entrepreneur who has built his tech conference by minimising expenditure, maximising exposure and making demands from the government.

However, does he really feel it is the government’s place to impose price limits on hotels (which are private businesses like Cosgrove’s Web Summit) just to suit his business venture? Does he believe it is right, while many are still struggling from the ravages of the recession, that taxpayer money be spent giving garda escorts to VIPs attending the Web Summit?

Flaws in government’s handling 

There is little doubt there were flaws in the government’s handling of this affair and the handling of the communications with the Web Summit was at best, incompetent. But things need to be put into perspective. Enda Kenny has bigger things to attend to.

Technology summit in Dublin Source: Brian Lawless

Indeed, the media and public would have rightly lambasted Enda Kenny if he had supplied Cosgrove with garda escorts and enforced fixed prices on private businesses just to boost a private business (i.e. the Web Summit).

Cosgrove built a big mousetrap and people came. Now that mousetrap has moved on and so should we. Yes, it was a good focal point for Ireland’s booming tech industry, but after November it will be gone and we need to get over that.

Meanwhile, the government should act with more decorum and stop getting involved in mudslinging with an entrepreneur who will sell out to the highest bidder if his demands are not met within a time frame dictated by himself.

So, while we should have the utmost respect for his endeavours, we should not lose too much sleep when he throws the rattle out of the pram.

Paul Allen is managing director of Paul Allen and Associates PR. Follow his blog.

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