Father of Irish internet gets hero’s honour

23 Nov 2006

Back in 1994 it was not uncommon to find Cormac Callanan (pictured) esconced behind what seemed like a reception desk at Trinity College. Directly behind him was a maelstrom of wires and boxes that at the time was the internet in Ireland. By that time Callanan was already three years in business as Ireland’s first internet service provider, called IEUnet.

It is no surprise therefore that Callanan is regarded as the founding father of the internet in Ireland.

Tonight Callanan will be awarded the title of Internet Hero at the Golden Spiders awards for his guiding role in the development of the internet in Ireland from an academic pursuit to a fully fledged industry. Today, 99pc of Ryanair’s 35 million European passengers book tickets online and last week it emerged that 86,000 people filed €2.2bn worth of income tax through the Revenue Online Service.

“I’m still amazed that people talk about the internet in the same way they would talk about steam engines,” Callanan says, referring to the creation of the world’s first website in 1991 by Tim Berners Lee. “I was always impressed with the internet from the very beginning but I didn’t realise how profound it would be.

“When I got to use the internet first it was actually illegal to do so in Ireland. We were actually cheating the system, finding ways for non-academic people to use it. At the time it was illegal for anyone except Eircom (then Telecom Eireann) to supply lines until deregulation came along.” It is ironic therefore that Eircom are the chief sponsors of the Golden Spiders tonight.

In the intervening years Callanan served as director of the Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland and as president of the European Internet Service Providers Association. He also founded the ]BOLD[www.hotline.ie]ENDBOLD[ service in November 1999 to provide an anonymous reporting service to members of the public who accidentally uncover illegal child pornography on the internet.

He is now the chief executive of Inhope — the Internet Hotline Providers Association — which co-ordinates the work of monitoring agencies across Europe regarding illegal content on the internet.

It is in this capacity that he works with police organisations like Interpol and Europol on illegal activity and earlier this week spoke before the European Parliament on the subject.

“Only 1.1pc of content on the internet is illegal, explicit material. But the nature of the problem is an emotional tug on all of us to say that society will have to work together to fight these things.”

Asked about how far the internet business has come since he started Ireland’s first ISP, Callanan admits he is still a fan of the internet.

“It’s fantastic to see such a wide range of creative ideas working nationally and internationally. It’s also great to see that after the dotcom bubble burst six years ago –where ludicrous ideas were raising ridiculous sums of money — that we’re seeing real solutions for problems coming through.”

Commenting on the award for Callanan, the managing director of Eircom Retail and chairman of the Golden Spiders judging panel Cathal Magee said: “Cormac can only be described as a pioneer of the Irish internet industry. Over the past decade, Cormac has made an outstanding contribution to the internet and was a natural choice for the title of Internet Hero.”

By John Kennedy