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‘For the love of God, don’t make me defend Paddy Cosgrave’

At a superficial level, Cosgrave may be considered a martyr to corporate censorship. Another look might suggest he was brought down by his own restless, scattergun bellicosity

Eleven days in Paddy Cosgrave’s Twitter/X life reveal something beyond the fact that the former Web Summit CEO’s comment that “war crimes are war crimes even when committed by allies” was pretty uncontroversial in Irish terms or barely distinguishable from the firmly-articulated, pro-Palestinian stance of the Irish government over decades.

Given the Glenstal and Trinity graduate’s relentless onslaught on what he considers the cronyist clique running an irredeemably corrupt tip of a country, it was hardly surprising that his (apparent) downfall was greeted with a confusion of satisfaction and some discomfort over the immediate cause of it. Or as one Twitter defender of free speech put it: for the love of God, don’t make me defend Paddy Cosgrave . . .

Cosgrave is entitled to freedom of speech. Whether it was wise for the head of a highly successful global conference to risk the livelihoods of his 300-plus employees by doubling down – or “grandstanding” as some saw it – on a perpetually controversial conflict is a relevant question. The ideal of freedom of speech is one well worth defending, but it can only be guaranteed in a perfect world. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from its consequences.

Some have learned that to their cost. Maha Dakhil, a top agent at Creative Artists Agency – with clients including Tom Cruise and Reese Witherspoon – stepped down from her leadership role, though will continue working with her clients, after apologising for social media posts that included Israel and “genocide”. Courtney Carey, a 26-year-old Irish-based employee of an Israeli tech company was dismissed over posts describing Israel as a “terrorist” state, and the “root cause of the violence” as “a Zionist ideology”. She later said she condemned “all forms of terrorism” and did not support Hamas, but the company president noted that staff in Israel had lost friends and family members in the Hamas attacks and “in the midst of this, for all the Israelis to be called terrorists by someone they perceive as a team-mate and a colleague is unfathomable, unexplainable and unacceptable”. Carey is “absolutely” considering taking an unfair dismissal case to the Workplace Relations Commission.


After several years of a trend for employees to feel comfortable bringing their personal lives and opinions to work, and with corporate management coming under pressure to speak out about social and political issues unrelated to the business, it all feels like an inflection point.

Some companies are being savaged for picking a side, others are condemned as “complicit” for remaining out of it.

Google, McDonald’s and Deloitte first expressed support for Israel – or meals for the military in the case of the Israeli franchise of McDonald’s – before addressing the human suffering in Gaza.

PR companies note clients’ new caution, “understanding that perceptions can be shifted by superfine nuances of language and tone”, as one explained it to the Financial Times. Another compared it to a geopolitical Roe vs Wade for corporates. The COO of Asana, a Californian software company which remains silent, said the company’s guiding principle was: “What problem are we trying to solve?”

This is the global context in which global entrepreneur Cosgrave was speaking out. Follow his 11-day Twitter (X) trajectory and observe the crucial distinction between his and the Irish Government’s approach. Like most governments, ours took care to first acknowledge the heinous butchery of Israeli civilians by Hamas. Cosgrave took eight days to affirm in his own words that the Hamas atrocity was “by every measure an act of monstrous evil” and another two to condemn it outright.

It hardly helped that in the days around the Hamas attacks he was in Doha publicising his forthcoming Qatari Web Summit and tweeting glitzy pictures from a state that has been the long-standing backer, funder and refuge for Hamas leadership. On the morning of the Hamas onslaught, he reposted nine-month-old allegations about Irish junior minister Niall Collins. Next day he was tweeting from the rich “very loud” playground of the Qatar Grand Prix.

In the following days he complained about “FFG-aligned Irish academics trying to use deaths in Israel to score political points against Sinn Féin in Ireland” and noted the Government’s rejection of an EU commissioner’s effort to halt aid to Gaza but mainly retweeted domestic Ditch stories.

Six days after the Hamas onslaught when he addressed the war directly and rocked the tech world: “War crimes are war crimes even when committed by allies . . . ” – he also posted a picture of Donegal looking “absolutely spectacular”.

As pressure built, Cosgrave posted his first, indirect, acknowledgment of the Israeli victims, via a screenshot of actor Adam Sandler’s words who said he was praying for Israelis and Palestinians everywhere.

Next day Cosgrave posted a Late Late Show clip of Patrick Kielty’s own take on conflict and his tragic learning from the Troubles – “the hurt and the pain on both sides was sadly the same”. He also tweeted several times about the thrilling Ireland-New Zealand rugby match.

He reposted the Kielty clip twice, linking it to his first direct opinion of the Hamas attack, calling it “outrageous and disgusting . . . by every measure an act of monstrous evil”. Finally, on October 16th, he condemned it outright . . . soon followed by a tweet reiterating his opposition to war crimes by allies – “I will not relent”.

Next day, came the apology – “what is needed at this time is compassion, and I did not convey that”. A few hours later he was off.

At a superficial level, Cosgrave may be considered a martyr to corporate censorship, cowardice and the principles of free speech. Another look might suggest he was brought down by his own restless, angry, scattergun, bare-knuckle, unnuanced bellicosity. Either way he still owns more than 80 per cent of Web Summit. Ireland certainly hasn’t seen the last of him.