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Irish govt slammed over MIT Media Lab Europe fiasco

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Ireland's Public Accounts Committee's report on the Media Lab Europe collapse proves the country's government is 'unfit' to spend taxpayers' money, an Opposition spokesman claims.

Media Lab Europe (MLE) was set up in 2000 as the centrepiece of the Digital Hub project in Dublin. The centre closed in 2005 and its failure cost the State €35m. On Wednesday the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published a report on MLE which said the Government must take responsibility for the failure to protect public money.

In a strongly worded statement Phil Hogan, Fine Gael spokesman on Enterprise, Trade and Employment, said: "The Government is a shower of wasters of public money. The PAC report reveals a litany of incompetence by the State concerning the negotiation, operation and ultimate closure of Media Lab Europe. The one consistency in the whole affair is that taxpayers' interests were ignored in order to allow the Taoiseach to achieve what ultimately turned into an unrealistic pipe dream."

ENN contacted the Department of Finance to comment on the accusations made by Hogan. A spokesman for the Department said the release of the Finance Bill on Thursday meant it was too busy to make a statement at the time of publication.

At launch, MLE was pegged as a research facility mirroring the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Media Lab. The project was developed by the Government in partnership with MIT, and produced just 15 refereed papers in its five year-long existence.

The PAC acknowledged that MIT had fulfilled its contractual obligations to the project. The US university yesterday welcomed the report.

"MIT welcomes the PAC report's confirmation that MIT fulfilled all of its commitments to the Irish Government and MLE, both legal and otherwise, and continues to believe that the Irish Government was visionary in pursuing Media Lab Europe," it said.

The statement from MIT suggested the technology market downturn in 2000 and 2001 had a "profoundly negative effect on MLE at crucial early stages in its development". While the sector's slide may have had an impact on MLE, the PAC report said the risks of going ahead with the project were recognised by the Government in advance. The report also criticised the contractual arrangements the Government tied itself to with MIT.

MIT said it wished the Government well in its new plans for the site of MLE. The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural resources is to convert the site into a new National Digital Research Centre. The Department will invest €25m in the project over the next five years.

Copyright © 2007, ENN

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