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Cos'ing havoc Paddy Cosgrave ‘ran toxic campaigns’ against Leo Varadkar and the IDA

Former Web Summit director alleges Cosgrave operated company like a personal fiefdom

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Paddy Cosgrave, co-founder of Web Summit. Picture by Pedro Nunes

Paddy Cosgrave, co-founder of Web Summit. Picture by Pedro Nunes

Paddy Cosgrave, co-founder of Web Summit. Picture by Pedro Nunes

Web Summit chief executive Paddy Cosgrave has been accused of using company resources to run “toxic” campaigns and vendettas against Leo Varadkar, the Tánaiste’s friend Maitiú Ó Tuathail, the IDA and his former school friends and Web Summit co-founders.

The allegations are contained in a legal action by a former director of the tech conference, David Kelly.

He is suing Cosgrave, the majority shareholder, alleging a complete breakdown of relations and that he was oppressed as a minority shareholder.

Mr Kelly alleges a defamation action taken by Dr Ó Tuathail over a defamatory tweet was “a prelude” to a “concerted campaign” to damage Dr Ó’Tuathail.

The action was settled, and by the time of Mr Cosgrave’s “tweet of apology” to Dr Ó Tuathail in August last year, “he had already begun working with a former associate of Dr Ó Tuathail as well as a Web Summit employee, with a view to discrediting him."

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Maitiú Ó Tuathail

Maitiú Ó Tuathail

Maitiú Ó Tuathail

The court papers outline Mr Cosgrave’s alleged involvement in breaking the story in the Village magazine that Mr Varadkar leaked a draft GP contract to Dr Ó Tuathail in April 2019 when it was still under negotiation.

The leak is now under investigation by gardaí. Last night the Village Twitter account posted a statement warning any media outlets of potential legal consequences resulting from the publication of details from Mr Kelly’s court papers.

The statement read: “Village published the piece in accordance with ordinary journalistic ethics and on the basis of what it independently thought relevant, fair and true.

"This is clearly shown by correspondence quoted in the affidavit itself showing that Village published, though Paddy Cosgrave and Eoghan McNeill ‘were entirely against publishing the piece’.

“Mr Cosgrave was properly keen to preserve a distance from the article and made no contribution to the piece itself, which was a collaboration between Chay Bowes and Village’s editor Michael Smith.”

Mr Cosgrave projected the Village cover story on the screen at Web Summit in Lisbon last week. Mr Kelly alleged two employees of Web Summit worked on the article.

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“I became concerned that Mr Cosgrave was using the reputation and platform of Web Summit to further the profiles of the individuals with whom he was engaged in political activities with, and specifically with a view to damaging the reputation of Dr Ó Tuathail and Mr Varadkar,” he said in court papers.

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Tanaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar speaks to the media during a visit to InterTradeIreland�s offices in Newry, Northern Ireland. Picture date: Thursday September 2, 2021.

Tanaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar speaks to the media during a visit to InterTradeIreland�s offices in Newry, Northern Ireland. Picture date: Thursday September 2, 2021.

Tanaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar speaks to the media during a visit to InterTradeIreland�s offices in Newry, Northern Ireland. Picture date: Thursday September 2, 2021.

He alleged Mr Cosgrave targeted “aggressively those with whom he has a disagreement or a grudge”. He claimed he had a “campaign” against Mr Varadkar, the IDA and Enterprise Ireland.

Mr Kelly claimed he was “exasperated and ground down” by Mr Cosgrave’s “disregard” for spending company resources on “his personal projects”.

Mr Kelly alleged Mr Cosgrave texted him in April last year about paying a “significant sum” to a body related to whistleblowers.

He cited a text message allegedly from Mr Cosgrave in which he said he was “acting as go-between” for too many whistleblowers and journalists and was “handing over” the gathering of information to an international organisation.

“Their team will manage it all and spin up a campaign specifically for Ireland. This then totally frees me up and I can feel I’ve done a good thing.”

Mr Kelly claims Mr Cosgrave engaged in a “toxic” campaign against the IDA, one of Web Summit’s earliest partners.

He said a senior IDA executive was “humiliated” at a Web Summit event in New Orleans in 2018. The IDA was sponsoring a drinks reception for chief executives of around 200 companies.

As a senior IDA executive gave a short welcome speech, he alleged Paddy Cosgrave stood beside her “slow clapping."

When she finished, Mr Cosgrave told the audience it would be the last time the IDA would be allowed to sponsor a Web Summit event.

“Subsequent to the event, Mr Cosgrave was in a rage and administered a dressing down to her.”

Mr Kelly, who is no longer a director or employee of Web Summit, claimed he has faced “a concerted campaign by Mr Cosgrave to damage my professional and commercial activities”. He claimed there was a “complete breakdown in the relationship of trust and confidence” between them.

He “pursued personal grievances with ferocious intensity”, he said, adding that he felt certain if he fell foul of Mr Cosgrave, he too would face a similar fate.

He alleges Mr Cosgrave told him he heard he had made a pass at a mutual friend at a wedding two months earlier. Mr Kelly said this was untrue and “it was now apparent Mr Cosgrave was making up falsehoods about me in order to damage my character”.

“Mr Cosgrave has run the company in a manner akin to that of a personal fiefdom, as if he owned it outright himself,” Mr Kelly alleged.

So far the court papers only reflect David Kelly’s side of an increasingly acrimonious dispute. Mr Cosgrave will have an opportunity to respond in full as the case develops.

Attempts to reach Web Summit yesterday were unsuccessful. A spokesperson has reportedly dismissed the claims as “deflection” from a case Web Summit has taken against Mr Kelly.

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