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Dublin will pay price for a lack of ambition

By Adrian Weckler

Published 29/09/2015

Michael Noonan, Irish Minister for Finance
Michael Noonan, Irish Minister for Finance

Is Dublin's tech dream beginning to wobble? Last week certainly didn't do it any good. First there was the Web Summit's decision to move its tech conference for 30,000 people to Lisbon because of Dublin's sub-standard infrastructure and "user experience".

Then there was confirmation that Dublin can't accommodate growing tech firms for at least a year, due to a lack of office construction. And then, to top it off, a week when officials put back new transportation plans around the city - a main reason why tech firms mostly only locate in the centre.

When told of the Web Summit ditching Dublin, Finance Minister Michael Noonan said that Dublin was fine without the 30,000-person conference.

"I don't think that people will be disappointed," he said. "Dublin is chock-a-block with business at present. The hotels are full nearly every weekend."

Who needs new tech businesses when you have tourists?

If Noonan's comments were flippant, then Richard Bruton's remarks were positively depressing.

"I think this is a natural step," he said of the Web Summit's departure. "This is a very successful company that has now become an international success. This is the next chapter in its growth."

Yes, in case you missed it, that comment was from the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

Ireland, says our industry minister, probably isn't a place for international successes seeking their next chapter of growth.

And then there was Taoiseach Enda Kenny. The "authorities", he said, "should look at improving facilities".

That's right - somebody should do something.

Irish tech entrepreneurs aren't impressed.

"It's yet another one of these 'Ireland doesn't scale' stories," said Joe Haslam, the Irish co-founder of European hotel reservation app Hot Hotels.

"We're brilliant at one-off stuff, but by the third year, the charm has worn off and people start to ask why the city doesn't have a metro."

Haslam isn't alone.

"Events of that nature don't come around too often in Ireland," said Jules Coleman, Irish co-founder of European cleaning app Hassle.com. He added: "We'll be lucky if we have something like that again."

Coleman's company recently merged with German cleaning giant Helpling.com in a €32m deal. She is one of a new generation of Irish business people who might take issue with Richard Bruton's comments about Irish companies needing to leave the country to become global players. (Although Hassle.com is now based between London and Berlin).

But is Bruton right about the ceiling on Irish tech ambition?

Is it simply unrealistic to expect Dublin to be able to host a 30,000-person conference with facilities that rival other European cities? And should we simply be grateful, as Michael Noonan says, that Dublin's hotels are doing well every weekend?

Some senior Irish technology executives may have doubts.

"We want more internationally competitive Irish companies, right?" said Twitter's Irish director, Stephen McIntyre in a tweet. He added: "I don't understand all the begrudgery about the Web Summit."

Some non-tech operators are also starting to focus on Dublin's lack of interest in upgrading infrastructure.

"On a per capita basis, cities like Manchester and London are spending two to three times as much as Dublin," said Gina Quin, chief executive of Dublin's Chamber of Commerce.

"As the Web Summit news proves, at some point this significant underinvestment will come home to roost. Dublin and Ireland are missing out on investments and jobs."

Belfast Telegraph

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