With the news that the Web Summit is to move to Portugal in 2016, Sinead Conroy looks at the implications of the move for the Irish economy. 

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Last week, we heard the disappointing announcement that the Irish born Web Summit will be relocating to Lisbon in 2016. Paddy Cosgrave, CEO of the summit, cited a lack of infrastructure as one of the primary reasons for the move.

The company employs 130 people in Ireland and the event is estimated to be worth approximately 100 million euro to the Dublin economy. This year’s event, the fifth to take place, is expected to bring 30,000 people to the capital, 90 per cent of whom will travel from abroad, according to Cosgrave.

The summit has been gathering pace at an almost breakneck speed, increasing in scale and momentum over the last number of years and attracting worldwide celebrities such as Bono and Eva Longoria. The summit is of huge interest to the 7,000 students and graduates expected to walk through its doors this year, encouraging innovation, creativity and start-ups. Given all of this positivity, one would have to wonder why our political leaders are so blasé about its relocation and more especially, its loss to the Dublin and Irish economies.

Minister for Finance Michel Noonan has claimed that the Web Summit won’t be missed. Noonan remarked that people wont be disappointed because “Dublin is chock-a-block with business at the moment”. Similarly surprising comments came from the Minister for Jobs, Trade and Innovation, Richard Bruton, who claimed that the move was “a natural step” for the company. This seemingly resigned and flippant attitude raises serious questions as to the efforts being made to attract and keep events such as the Web Summit in Dublin.

Figures supplied by an Enterprise Ireland spokesperson show that the Web Summit has recieved 455,900 euro in EI funding since 2011. In total it has received 800,000 euro from state agencies since its inception. Fáilte Ireland has estimated a loss to the city of 37.5 million euro as a result of the relocation. A considerable amount of taxpayers’ money has gone in to supporting and sponosoring the Web Summit over the last five years. Projections are that it will bring 175 million euro to the Portuguese economy next year. Why are our political leaders not more concerned? What will be done to keep events like the Web Summit here in future, and what can be done to change the perception that Dublin failed to keep a home grown success on our shores?

With little sign of concern shown by Noonan or Bruton last week, one would have to wonder whether any effort was made to fix the problems faced by the Web Summit in Dublin. The saga which has been ongoing for sometime has been seen by many as an embarrassment. Chief among the suggested reasons for the relocation have included poor WiFi and huge increases in hotel rates. This is an unwanted blow to the reputation of the country in international tech circles as well as in the international business and investment world. A spokesperson for the IDA confirmed that from the IDA’s perspective, “every effort was made to ensure the Web Summit continued in Dublin”. The IDA also highlight that its work “encouraging investment into Ireland is continuing and every day IDA staff engage directly with potential investors into Ireland, including those in the technology sector”. Enterprise Ireland also pointed out its position going forward “will be supporting other great initiatives to help drive awareness of Ireland as the key location in Europe to start a business, and to help our companies succeed globally, creating and sustaining jobs in Ireland.” However, none of these statements of concern seem to address the issue of infrastructure – which is key to attractive international events, especially those of a technological nature.

Tánaiste Joan Burton has claimed she is “confident” that Ireland can attract a similar event in the future. Despite this, it’s not clear what plans the Government has to improve infrastructure issues which seem to be at the heart of the failure to keep the Web Summit in Ireland.

In reaction to the departure, opposition leader Micheál Martin questioned whether or not the government could have done more to ensure the Web Summit remained in Dublin. It was announced last week that Portugese authorities will be providing 1.3 million euro in financial support in 2016 where they expect the event to grow to 40,000 attendees. The loss to Dublin city will be seen in tourism, investment, reputation and local small businesses who use the event as a platform for development.