Dublin City Council to take over control of Digital Hub

31 Oct 2012

Pictured: What might have been: one of the original plans for the nine-acre site where the Digital Hub is located

The Digital Hub Development Authority will no longer be reporting to the Department of Communications and will instead report directly to Dublin City Council, which has plans to develop Dublin as a hub for digital and green enterprises.

When it was first dreamt up in the late 1990s the €250m Digital Hub project, it was hoped, would act not only as a propellant for industries of the future but as a catalyst to spread prosperity into one of the most economically disadvantaged areas of Dublin.

The original plan envisaged a sprawling district populated by digital media enterprises, café bars, shops and residential areas.

However, this was not to be and it never grew beyond its current nine acres. The closure of MIT’s €51m Media Lab Europe in 2005 – the centerpiece of the endeavour – cast something of a shadow that began to abate following the formation of the National Digital Research Centre.

The Digital Hub cluster, which today comprises 80 companies employing 700 people, was to be merged with either IDA Ireland or Enterprise Ireland under public sector reform plans tabled last year by Minister Brendan Howlin TD.

Since its founding in 2003 it has supported over 2,000 jobs and 170 enterprises in total.

It has also played a role in regenerating the Liberties area, engaging closely with the local community and opening up opportunities for schools and local people in terms of the digital economy.

However, today Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte revealed that instead of merging the DHDA with another State agency, Dublin City Council seemed to be the best option.

Dublin City Council is keen to develop Dublin as a hub for digital and green enterprises. It also has considerable experience in the management and development of property and in urban regeneration. This makes the Council particularly well placed to oversee the continued management of the Digital Hub Development Agency.”

“Throughout the recession, the DHDA has continued to support new indigenous digital enterprises. The presence of a strong cluster of these enterprises in Dublin complements the presence of large ICT and digital content multinationals in Ireland and puts Ireland firmly on the map as a digital economy.”

 Minister Rabbitte said that there will be a transition period over the next few months.

He said that a governance model needs to be fully defined for the DHDA. “I have asked officials from my Department and Dublin City Council to work on a transition plan with the DHDA, with a view to putting appropriate administrative arrangements in place by the end of the year.

“The plan will address detailed operational issues and identify opportunities to draw on the skills and capabilities that exist within both the City Council and the Digital Hub. Importantly, the plan will set out how the Hub will continue to operate effectively and assist the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in the development of national digital policy,” he said.

Business as usual at Digital Hub

DHDA chief executive Philip Flynn said that the agency is already working with Dublin City Council and stressed that it is business as usual at the Digital Hub.

“We are already working with Dublin City Council officials on the management and development of property and urban regeneration and the digital enterprise cluster,” Flynn explained.

“Moving to the City Council now will allow the Digital Hub to continue to operate effectively while at the same time realising important cost savings for the Exchequer.  The move will bring particular benefits in relation to the project’s enterprise, property management, learning and community functions.  Dublin City Council has a wealth of expertise in relevant areas and, furthermore, has property interests adjacent to those of the Digital Hub.

“I want to stress that the Digital Hub is open for business and will continue to be throughout and beyond the transition.  This move will not impact on the tenancy arrangements we have in place with the 70-plus digital enterprises currently located at the Hub.

“The project will continue to serve existing tenants and facilitate prospective new tenants, as well as proactively engaging with the local community in Dublin 8,” Flynn said. 

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years