From top: Paddy Cosgrave; with Dr Gavin Jennings (centre) and unidentified ‘suit’
Further to tensions between the Web Summit and the government summit founder Paddy Cosgrave appeared on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland earlier to explain why Lisbon will host next year’s event.
Features: lies, hush money and traffic restrictions.
Dr Gavin Jennings: ‘Welcome back to the RDS Simmonscourt where we often bring you election campaigns but this morning is full of Technology trade stands, the smell of coffee, al ot of very young people, very tight jeans and very strange beards. It’s the Web Summit where people who want to make it in the Tech Industry get to meet people who already have. Founders of big companies like Instagram, Pixar and Tinder are here, Henry Ford’s grandson is here, in the huge seated area with a big stage just outside our studio, and Facebook stand where you can try out their oculus VR, take yourself to another world we’re told. Speakers will include author Dan Browne and Tour de France winner Chris Froome. Paddy Cosgrave is the organiser of the event which started in 2010 with 400 people and this year expects over 40,000 visitors. Paddy, thank you very much for coming to our pop up studio.I just see in the welcoming note that you’ve sent to people who are coming here ‘It rains alot in Ireland but rarely heavily. We strongly advise you bring a strong compact umbrella just in case.’Your visitors must be stunned at what they’re seeing here today.”
Paddy Cosgrave: “Oh the weather is absolutely incredible. What a November day.”
Jennings: “You’re also warning about problems with public transport.”
Cosgrave: “Yeah, I think when you bring a huge amount of people from around the world to what is a small city that’s already under strain on a daily basis it’s only going to accentuate the problem so we advise people to walk to and from the venue.”
Jennings: “Why are you not coming back next year?”
Cosgrave: “I think the Web Summit just got too big for the city. I think that over the last two years the strain that the city itself has been under is pretty obvious – you pick it up on twitter and certainly from the feedback from attendees – we just needed to find a bigger home. And we found one.”
Jennings: “The problems that you experienced, that you highlighted, that you wanted worked on, are they any better this year?”
Cosgrave: “Em, I think time will tell. I’m optimistic that there is some traffic calming measures around the RDS. I think that will alleviate traffic both for residents and for people that have flown in to Dublin.”
Jennings: “For those who haven’t followed the story, you released on social media a lot of exchanges between yourself and the department of the Taoiseach. I’m not going to go through it all again now, but you highlighted things that you wanted done and that weren’t done or at least not to your satisfaction and that’s why you say you’re moving to Lisbon next year. Do you regret how that all panned out now?”
Cosgrave: “Well, I actually think it’s a very interesting situation. There are serious issues in this country like homelessness, we’ve a health crisis. I do think this is a very opportunistic tack by the government. Ultimately the Web Summit is not that important at the end of the day to ordinary people’s lives. The way it’s has played out, the way it has been spun out and the lies that have been told the government, I think, are just a useful and practical distraction from the day to day beating that they take from the Irish Media.”
Jennings: ‘What sort of lies?’
Cosgrave: “So if you look actually at the context of the email. Over a great many years we were flagging that we were receiving, as they rightly point out, taxpayers money. They gave us over €750,000 and consistently, year after year, we said that we were ultimately embarrassed that we were given this money to pay for exhibition stands and that the state agencies responsible were doing so little to realise any return on investment. So if you look at the emails you’ll see that ministers from all over Europe have been and are coming to this event without ever being invited. They just know the event is on and they make it their business to be here.
What do they do when they come here? They look to meet with high level attendees, they hold bilateral meetings with them and they try to develop relationships. Why do they do that? Because they’re interested in helping the businesses in their countries ultimately.
What has happened over the last four years in the case of the Web Summit is that I have no recollection of an Irish Minister ever meeting with a high level delegate.
Last year the British sent a Minister here for two days. He didn’t look for photos beside Enterprise Ireland or the IDA stand. He said he spent two days doing non stop bilateral meetings. What did No. 10 Downing St. do? They opened the doors of their offices to delegations that flew out of Dublin into London to meet with high level civil servants and politicians. It was all about trade. That has been repeated again here this week. There are Ministers from countries large and small; they were never invited by us, they just show up. They’re here to help their countries. What we received over a four year period in my eyes amounts to nothing more than hush money. We were supposed to accept this and then lavish the government in praise, which we did publicly for four years. What we did behind the scenes was try and push them time and time and again and try to get them to realise that this was an opportunity for Irish Businesses and they did not take that opportunity. I’d be happy to read out further emails that I have not released that go back further than 2015, into 2014 and 2013.”
Jennings: ‘You sound very angry about the way this has all turned out. Is there any way back for the web summit to Dublin?’
Cosgrave:” I’m absolutely of the belief that Dublin is an absolutely fantastic venue for any conference. The fact that we do not have a conference industry makes it very difficult for conferences at scale or conferences of any type to operate in this city. Nevertheless, I think it’s a fantastic city and we’d always welcome any opportunity to come back in to Ireland.”
Jennings:: “I don’t want to go into all the details as a lot of them have been trawled over before but some people will have problems with, I mean you’re a big business man now, and you’re asking for fees to be waived for garda escorts and traffic management, did you really ask for garda escort for VIP millionaires?”
Cosgrave: “No, first of all those escorts were provided and offered to us in the past. So if you look at that email, what happened, and I would call it a very clever move by civil servants, they asked us to give them a wishlist, absolutely everything we thought they could possibly do for us that was reasonable., that was the starting point, that was 2014. If you look at all of the correspondence in 2015 that relates to 2016 at no point, at no point did we ask for any money. Instead we offered the State €1,000,000 euro worth of exhibition space, costs that are paid by other governments all over the world from Mexico to Brazil to Israel. So just to ultimately stress, I believe that this is just a distraction from the real issues that really impact people on a day to day basis. It’s a piece that really is of no consequence come an election, and it’s helpful to distract people, from the government’s point of view. And the idea that a Minister needs a formal invitation to show up here…”
Jennings: ‘You issued an invitation to the Taoiseach on Friday night?’
Cosgrave: ‘Well, first of all he was invited in May and those discussions began in May and everyone is perfectly aware they came to nothing. On Friday every TD, Senator, Minister was issued with an invite.’
Cosgrave: ‘It’s clear from what you describe and from your emails and you said it to me there at the beginning that you felt you have outgrown Dublin, that Dublin wasn’t capable of putting on this event any more. Had you your mind already made up …. ‘
[talk over each other]
Cosgrave: ‘Let me read you an email from 2013 based on my experience dealing with the State Agency Enterprise Ireland, in this country. I can honestly say that I am uncomfortable working with any organisation, in particular one funded using taxpayer money, that seems to have achieved so little yet invested so much time, money and resources in Web Summit. Logos and photos might impress in annual reports but spin can not completely obscure the reality and that reality is in this case somewhat concerning.
That was 2013. Publicly, we always lavished the government in praise, privately we were constantly trying to work to get politicians to do what other governments around Europe were doing at Web Summit and that was quite simply focusing not on photo opportunities but focusing on opportunities to do business and today there are ministers from countries as large as France and as small as Kosovo outside doing the work that they have been elected to do.
Jennings: ‘Do you think that the other governments, like the Portuguese, might be nervous that you put correspondence with the Irish government so readily into Social Media that you might do the same to them if you don’t get what you want from them?’
Cosgrave: ‘So that correspondence was due to be released in any case, the following day, under Freedom of Information requests and FOI applies all across Europe, it’s no different in Ireland.
Jennings: “I’ll come back to what I asked you a little earlier on: Do you see a way back for the event coming to Dublin? It doesn’t sound like it.”
Cosgrave: “So we now have events in Hong Kong, in the United States in New Orleans, and in India all growing faster than the Web Summit, so what we do is build conferences that bring people together all over the world and we started in Dublin five years ago. We’ve got a lot better, we’re now launching conferences in other cities around Europe. I would see absolutely no reason why we would not launch conferences in Dublin. It’s a fantastic city.”
Jennings: “So you think you could come back here?”
Cosgrave: ‘Absolutely, why not?”
Jennings: ‘Paddy Cosgrave, organiser of the Web Summit, thank you very much for speaking with us this morning.’
Previously: How The Web Summit Was Lost