Web Summit got €700,000 in State funds over three years

Series of emails showed irritation over alleged failure to help summit’s growth plans

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny responds to criticisms from Web Summit founder Paddy Cosgrave, saying the relocating the event to Lisbon is a 'commercial decision'. Video: EU Commission

 

The IDA and Enterprise Ireland paid more than €700,000 to the Web Summit over the last three years as part of ongoing support for the event, which will relocate to Portugal next year.

“Significant” financial and other support was also provided by a number of State agencies over the lifetime of the event.

Details of the payments came in response to a series of emails released by the Web Summit on Thursday, outlining co-founder Paddy Cosgrave’s frustration at what he perceived to be a lack of engagement by the Government on the summit’s future.

In these, Mr Cosgrave said he wanted no money from the State in order to keep the event in Dublin, but urged officials to co-operate on an infrastructural strategy for its future.

Steep hotel prices

He said addressing core issues such as traffic management, steep hotel prices and wifi was essential, but “after three years of asking and asking, we still don’t have even one single page outlining even a basic committed plan”.

Responding last night, the Department of the Taoiseach said State agencies had been “happy to support the Web Summit and help it grow in scale each year”.

According to figures it provided for the period between 2012 and 2014, Enterprise Ireland paid a total of €405,900 to the event organisers. It also provided figures amounting to €320,000 attributed to the IDA.

A spokesman for the Web Summit said the funds received were sponsership and partnership money.

Regarding the correspondence between officials and Mr Cosgrave, illustrating increasingly tense exchanges, a statement from the department said these represented “a selection of rather than a full account” of dealings.

In Brussels on Thursday night, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the “Web Summit are fully entitled to make their [relocation] decision and I expect that that will be filled by others in a relatively short time”.

“From my point of view I spoke to Paddy [Cosgrave] myself actually when he was in Portugal, saying we would offer every assistance that we can in terms of what Government could do here,” he said.

“It wasn’t the Government writing a cheque for this, but being supportive, very encouraging all along the line.”

Minister for Communications Alex White said on Thursday night the level of support the Web Summit was seeking “wouldn’t be normal” for a conference of that nature.

‘Specific requests’

Mr White said his department had received no request for assistance from Mr Cosgrave, and had “specific requests” been made, they would have been “dealt with”.

“I’m not aware of any specific ask on the technical side,” he told The Irish Times. “I’ve read the stuff today about public transport and he wanted to have provision in relation to security coming over and back from the airport and so on.

“It wouldn’t be normal for that level of security or support to be associated with conferences like that, but I’m sure if he had specific requests they would have been dealt with.

“As far as I’m aware we were never contacted by the Web Summit in relation to any of this. I see the emails are between him and the Department of the Taoiseach.”

He said the issue of wifi at the RDS was not a matter for Government to deal with. “We weren’t in fact asked to do anything, nor would we be because something like wifi is something you negotiate through a supplier,” he said.

“The Government doesn’t give you wifi. The Government through my department develops a policy in relation to communication. It’s always been the case that private sector supplies broadband and all of the productivity is supplied through private operators.”

Growing irritation

The response from the Department of the Taoiseach and the Taoiseach himself was a swift counter to the content of the letters which became available on Thursday afternoon and which outlined Mr Cosgrave’s growing irritation with the Government response to his concerns on future events.

“For whatever reason, there is clearly no appetite for real political engagement,” he wrote in one of a series of increasingly testy exchanges with John Callinan, assistant secretary general at the Department of the Taoiseach, and Enda Kenny’s private secretary Nick Reddy in August and September.

“Whatever the value to the city, we’re not looking for a penny in return. We want to stay in Dublin, but without a plan for the city we cannot stay in Dublin.”

He said a transport management plan was needed for the event, similar to those put in place for rugby matches and the Horse Show, while criticising alleged “price gouging” by hotels at last year’s event.

“We’ve never succeeded in getting a single meeting with Dublin’s city manager, nor been invited to one. Yet we’ve been invited constantly to sit down with prime ministers across Europe, ” another email claimed.

“Over five years, we’ve been invited to more meetings in Number 10 Downing Street than to meetings in Leinster House.”

In a statement, Dublin City Council said it had “been very supportive of the Web Summit over the years and everything possible and within reason was done to facilitate it”.

Assistant chief executive Brendan Kenny met with Mr Cosgrave and would have done so again, the council said.

The RDS was also quick to defend itself over having come under fire from the Web Summit, which had claimed the venue was “blocking” a simple wifi solution.

The Web Summit had said: “They need to understand that putting up barriers that increase the cost to over €1 million this coming year, when it’s [wifi’s] free and reliable in other cities, just adds significantly to the pressures forcing us out of Dublin,” it has claimed in an email.

In a robust response, the RDS “wholeheartedly rejected” the accusation, saying it had invested heavily in its digital infrastructure and that it was the “exclusive responsibility” of the Web Summit to install and manage its own wifi service.

‘Wish list’

On a “wish list” sent to Dublin City Council, the summit had sought dedicated shuttle buses for the event, temporary bike stations, complimentary rental of a number of venues such as City Hall and Wood Quay and Garda escorts for VIPs, among other measures.

In seeking to get information regarding traffic measures, Mr Cosgrave said the Government had shown “no leadership, no coordination, no specifics”.

“Public transport and traffic calming are the two most essential issues inside your control and outside of ours,” he added, asking why there was no information forthcoming from the department.

“How are specific answers to all these questions and more possible in every other city that has approached us, but not in the city we call home?” he asked.

“We have decided in this reality to just take the lead and write the plan for you based on what we’ve seen in other cities. It’s a bizarre situation,” Mr Cosgrave added.

He pointed out that a proper transport management plan was needed for the event, similar to those put in place for rugby matches and the Horse Show, and offered to share data to assist with this.

He asked for information regarding the level of public transport to run while the summit was on. He also noted that “price gouging” by hotels had been an issue at last year’s events and needed to be addressed, as did the wifi problems that have beset the event.

Mr Cosgrave said he never once knocked the Government or spoken out against it, but growing increasingly frustrated, he said that he was receiving no support at all from the Coalition as he sought to keep the summit in the capital.

“You’re operating in a parallel universe where a jobs announcement or a photo opportunity at Web Summit is the biggest opportunity you see,” he said.

Mr Cosgrave said he had never asked or received direct financial support from either IDA Ireland or Enterprise Ireland.

Free stands

Following up on this, he offered both organisations free stands to the value of €1million and promised 20,000 free tickets to secondary school and college students to evening summits. He also offered 300 free tickets for Irish entrepreneurs to all events.

The Web Summit announced last month it was to relocate to Lisbon for the next three years. The summit is expected to draw more than 30,000 attendees in its final year in Dublin in November. Fáilte Ireland estimated the event was worth €37.5 million to the capital.

In the emails, which were released on Thursday, Mr Cosgrave shared with the Government a list of what he said were details of contributions offered by other states to convince the summit to relocate. These included full venue rental, dedicated and free public transport arrangements, financial contributions totalling €100 per foreign attendee, and pop-up and fixed accommodation costs for guests and auxiliary services.

Responding to Mr Cosgrave’s concerns, Mr Callinan said the Government felt it made more sense to focus on this year’s event before mapping out the 2016 one.

Mr Cosgrave responded to this saying that without a plan for 2016, it might not be possible to hold the event in Dublin.

On hearing that the Web Summit had decided to relocate the event to Lisbon next year, Mr Callinan expressed his disappointment and said the Government would continue to work with the summit on the 2015 event.