Irish Internet Association gets a temporary reprieve

23 Nov 2016

Just like in 1997 when it was founded, grassroots members at an AGM strongly voiced their view that Ireland needs an internet organisation to help businesses navigate the digital straits. Image: Denis Rozhnovsky/Shutterstock

At an AGM last night, members of the Irish Internet Association (IIA) voted against winding down the organisation, pending a consultant’s review. It is hoped there is still a future for the IIA.

Founded in 1997, the not-for-profit IIA was the independent voice of the internet industry in Ireland. Over the years, it provided a multitude of events, resources and training services and spearheaded the Digitise the Nation campaign.

However, the organisation hit a financial crossroads as membership dwindled, from a peak of 340 members down to 115 paying members today.

At the weekend, an alarming email was sent to members warning that the organisation was on its “deathbed.”

“Currently, the IIA has no cash, no staff, no assets, no office and no plan,” the email said. It pointed to a disappointing EGM on 27 October, where only 10 members from eight organisations attended. In addition, there were three IIA directors and four non-members, making 17 attendees in total.

Cashflow problem

The heart of the matter was a cashflow problem that is understood to have peaked during the summer months.

Former CEO Joan Mulvihill, who led the organisation for seven years with characteristic dynamism and energy, is understood to have volunteered for redundancy to help alleviate the cost burden on the IIA.

At the AGM last night, the chair of the board Eamonn Grant said that audited accounts showed the organisation had a deficit of around €23,000 at the end of 2015.

He told members that the board has worked to call in outstanding debts and pay creditors.

Grant said that once outstanding payments from sponsors were collected, the remaining balance of funds for the IIA will stand at €3,597 in credit.

A stay of execution for the IIA

Grant said the organisation was in “uncharted territory”.

However, when asked to vote for a new remit for the IIA or to wind the organisation, 22 members present voted for a new remit. Not one member voted to wind up the IIA.

The chief executive of the .IE Domain Registry (IEDR), David Curtin, came to the table with a proposal for the future of the organisation.

He said the IEDR has agreed to provide a funding commitment of €10,000 to finance a business strategy consultation.

The view of the consultation – which will reach out to all past and present members – is to identify a vision or mission statement for the IIA.

Curtin said that following the IIA’s EGM on 27 October, he spoke to Enterprise Ireland and other stakeholders and it was agreed that a strategy consultant could be employed to develop a case for a “renewed IIA” and come up with a sustainable plan.

Sustainable resources still within the IIA’s remit include its training partnership with Irish Times Training, which could deliver revenues as well as a resource that had been developed, called My Ecom Kit, to help SMEs navigate the digital economy.

The new chief executive of the Digital Hub Development Agency, former Senator Fiach Mac Conghail, said that the Digital Hub was willing to provide hotdesk facilities to the consultants free of charge.

Grassroots members show a passion for a future IIA

At the AGM, grassroots members who travelled from as far afield as Letterkenny made it clear that they believed the IIA should continue on the basis that SMEs across Ireland are technologically unprepared for the digital economy.

For this reason, they said, the IIA still has a vital role to play.

The board, led by Grant, said that following the AGM, it will be resigning and called for a new board to be elected.

Grant said that four members – who weren’t present – had said that they were willing to become board members.

Three members who were present at the AGM also volunteered to become board members.

However, this was not enough to meet the minimum of eight as required in the IIA’s founding charter.

Members voted to reduce the board membership from a minimum of eight down to three, and reduce the quorum required for board decisions from five down to two.

Former board members Clare Dillon and Jason Roe volunteered their services to form part of a working group that would help a new board transition, pending the outcome of the consultative process.

The consultation process is expected to last 10 weeks.

“IEDR will take an ongoing active role in working with the consultant to achieve this and will be the liaison point for contact with interested stakeholders. Enterprise Ireland has likewise been a long-term supporter of the IIA and will take an active interest in the project,” Curtin wrote in a letter to the chair of the board.

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