MIT says failed MLE was visionary step by Govt

1 Feb 2007

The Irish Government was visionary in pursuing the failed Media Lab Europe (MLE) project that cost the Exchequer over €50m by the time it closed in 2005 with the loss of 35 jobs, the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology said in response to a Dail Public Accounts Committee report on the subject.

The Dail Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report said that MIT fulfilled all of its commitments to the Irish Government and MediaLab Europe, both legal and othersise.

MIT welcomed the findings saying that it continues to believe that the Irish Government was visionary in pursuing MediaLab Europe.

It is understood that the government invested some €50.8m in bringing the MLE to Dublin in 1999, at a time when it fostered ambitions to make Ireland an electronic gateway to Europe and a leading light in the digital media sphere.

The lab was to raise its €20m a year operating costs through its own activities such as attracting R&D investment from corporate players.

However, despite winning deals with firms such as Orange, Eircom and BT, MLE failed to bring in the desired level of R&D investment and its efforts were frustrated by the IT industry downturn that began in 2001 and trundled on until 2004/2005.

Since then the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources revealed plans to invest up to €25m over the next five years in the new National Digital Research Centre (NDRC) which is located on the same site as the old MediaLab in the Liberties area, adjacent to the Digital Hub district.

The PAC investigation in to the failure of MLE attempted to discover how the MLE project failed.

MIT said that it made three submissions to the PAC that answered questions in relation to MLE.

MIT said that it also requested the liquidator of MLE to cooperate with the Comptroller & Auditor General in providing detailed information to the PAC.

In a statement, the Boston-based research organisation said: “MIT entered into all negotiations and contractual arrangements regarding the establishment of MLE in the utmost good faith and with the overarching intention that the initiative would be successful.

“As a charitable, non-profit educational institution whose mission is focused on education and basic fundamental research to increase knowledge for the public good, MIT entered into the MLE collaboration on the same non-directed research principles.”

MIT said that the technology market downturn in the latter half of 2000 and into 2001 provided formidable challenges for many ICT ventures in that period, including a direct and profoundly negative effect on MLE at crucial early stages in its development.

“While it did not realise its potential in such an economic and operating environment, MLE was a highly innovative and worthwhile initiative that yielded clear benefits for Ireland’s continuing progress as a leader in the technology marketplace,” MIT stated.

MIT concluded by saying it wished the Irish Government every success with the new National Digital Research Centre.

By John Kennedy