So Deputy Kenny did get a belated invitation?

Cosgrave’s claims that state dropped Web Summit ball need to be discussed

Belated invitation ... Paddy Cosgrave opening the Web Summit 2015 at the RDS in Dublin.  Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times.

Belated invitation ... Paddy Cosgrave opening the Web Summit 2015 at the RDS in Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times.

 

One Friday recently, a friend was pleased to open an email invitation to an official dinner. He was less pleased when he noticed the date. It was for the following Wednesday. From this, he deduced that, a) he was a very late sub, and b), that the hosts were being very presumptuous about his late availability.

He kept his dignity, as he saw it, and declined. Short notice is not the norm in official circles. An embassy, say, with a plan to have the Taoiseach attend a dinner will start the planning a year in advance.

Where does the Web Summit fit in that spectrum? “Taoiseach Enda Kenny did receive an invitation to attend this week’s Web Summit . . . despite his spokesman saying he didn’t,” began a report in one Monday paper. Well, there it is. The prime minister sworn to make Ireland the best small country in the world in which to do business, was snubbing Silicon Valley’s finest. Worse, he was lying about it.

Scroll down to paragraph four, however, and it emerged the invitation was dispatched by email on Friday, October 30th – that was last Friday. Four days before the opening.

No invitation

The Web Summit spokesman, meanwhile, said it was mystified that the failure to send a formal invitation was attracting any attention at all, since the Taoiseach had attended without one in the past couple of years. So the final answer is no, he did not receive a formal invitation, once you discount that Friday night drop to “Deputy Kenny”, a circular dispatched to all deputies. So if there was no formal invitation to the Taoiseach, who or what inspired that report saying the Taoiseach “did receive an invitation . . . despite his spokesman saying he didn’t”? Spin is not confined to politicians. No one emerges from this clothed in dignity. If the Taoiseach’s office had not received a formal invitation in previous years but had gone along anyway, why didn’t it defuse a spiralling PR disaster, by simply saying an invitation was not expected, as usual ?

On the other side, if the Web Summit people as they claim had been engaged in talks about his participation since May and therefore, we might infer, wanted him to attend, why didn’t it simply issue a formal invitation as is the norm in official circles? The Web Summit is building these conferences around the world now so surely it issues invitations in the normal way?

All this could be dismissed as a storm in a teacup, if lessons were being learned on every side. The attendance of a prime minister at any event is normally regarded as a feather in the organiser’s cap. The Web Summit feels it has outgrown all that old nonsense, obviously. The lese majeste it fancies has been displayed towards it in the lead-up negotiations, apparently, absolves it of any obligation to observe protocol or civilities. Paddy Cosgrave has unleashed his fury at several levels. An earlier lashing in October revolved around demands for Garda escorts for VIP tech millionaires, traffic management, discount Leap cards, wifi and all the other goodies on the shopping list of a big private company, all to be funded by the Irish taxpayer. The Web Summit is a phenomenon, a networking and social nirvana for tech people who need the visibility, can afford the pricey admission and have the energy to cover its vast area. Cosgrave himself has admitted the city has grown too small for it and there are clear lessons to be learned there by those who run the city, but also by Cosgrave himself. But buried in the reverential myth-making is the fact that the Web Summit is a private business venture, which doesn’t even figure in the top 10 largest annual events in Ireland. But all that is trivial compared to Cosgrave’s latest allegations, in which he accuses Irish officialdom of telling lies, of using these spats to divert attention from the homelessness and health crises.

Inexcusable failure

To a tech outsider, that sounds unlikely, given the phenomenal growth of global tech companies here and the fact that Ireland is among the top countries in the world in which to do business.

Yet Cosgrave clearly believes there is official lassitude. This should not be allowed to pass. It would be interesting to see a debate between Cosgrave and the heads of the IDA and Enterprise Ireland.

The silly, half-reported spats and spin between him and the Taoiseach’s office will pass with a little reputational damage on both sides but if opportunities are being lost to create jobs in our highly-exposed, globalised little economy, then we should know about it. Let’s have the debate.