Sunday 26 January 2020

Michael O'Doherty: Geeks, gripes and garda escorts - it's time we got over the Web Summit

Paddy Cosgrave
Paddy Cosgrave

A supermodel, a world-famous author, a famous golfer, and two former sports stars were in Dublin last week, all speakers at the same event.

Bizarrely, the event in question had nothing to do with sports, or literature, or the modelling industry. It was - you guessed it - the Web Summit.

Judging by the pronouncements that came from the organisers of the event, you'd have thought that these people had come together to announce that they'd found a cure for cancer.

In reality, however, they were just big names to sprinkle a bit of stardust on what would otherwise be just another geek-fest.

In the past month, everyone seems to have had an opinion on who is to blame for the Summit deserting Dublin and moving to Lisbon next year.

Most vocal have been two of the event's founders - Paddy Cosgrave and Daire Hickey - both of whom gave interviews to RTE last week to complain about the level of Government cooperation they've received in trying to iron out their gripes.

Some of their points, widely-covered by all media, are well founded. But in an interview last Tuesday Cosgrave made a new and astonishing accusation against the Government.

"There are very serious issues in this country like homelessness and a health crisis," said Cosgrave, "and [the Web Summit] is a useful distraction from the day-to-day beating that [the Government] takes at the hands of the Irish media."

That's right, Cosgrave stated the Government used his event to divert attention from issues like homelessness. It's a remarkable claim, coming as it does from someone who doesn't seem to have been particularly troubled by the subject himself.

On the contrary, Cosgrave's only concerns seem to involve having streets closed, areas of Dublin city centre cordoned off, and VIP guests given garda escorts, so that they continue to enjoy his event - and continue to pay the substantial fees the organisers charge people to attend.

For the next three years, Lisbon will have the pleasure of dealing with the organisers, and good luck to them.

Those who have been at the receiving end of Cosgrave and Hickey's jibes in the past will no doubt raise a wry smile at the news that hotels in Lisbon have already started hiking up their prices.

Dublin has lost a high profile event, and a few million euro in revenue, but it's not all bad.

Next year we won't have to listen to the pompous, self-important bleating of Cosgrave, Hickey et al. Ultimately, the Web Summit is just another conference, and Dublin will have no trouble finding one to replace it.

Who knows, it may be replaced by a medical conference, which might bring people closer to finding a cure for a hitherto incurable illness, thus improving the quality of life for people worldwide. It might, in short, be something important.

Something which, for all it's hype, hot air and social media chatter, the Web Summit never was - and never will be.

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