Dargan Forum 2024: Tech powered collaboration in action

Bigger and better was what the director of the Dargan Forum 2024 promised and bigger and better is what we got.

This year’s Dargan Forum 2024, centred on the topic Putting People and Places First, comprised five events over two days bringing together 45 expert speakers, four parallel sessions, five venues and 150 attendees.

The national Connected Hubs July Meetup kicked off the schedule with their bi-monthly national Zoom meetup being hosted from the Dargan Hub above Bank of Ireland in Dún Laoghaire.

“In the 21st century powerful virtual technologies such as cloud computing, AI and quantum computing will shape our lives in ways that we can only imagine. The objective of the Dargan Forum is ensuring that these powerful technologies are put to the service of people and places, leaving no one behind”

Next up on Wednesday evening was the Dargan Forum Official Reception in Dún Laoghaire’s Harbour Commissioner’s House with super views of Dublin Bay. Speaking at the event the guest of honour, Minister Ossian Smyth, said that Dún Laoghaire is a town that was built on technology.

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Harbouring ambition

From when the first massive block of granite was put in place in May 1817 to build the world’s largest asylum harbour (a title it held for over 50 years) it became the ideal destination for Ireland’s first railway which was completed by engineer William Dargan in 1834.

In the words of the Minister one thing led to another, the planned town emerged to capitalise on the new harbour and railway. He said that this progress depended on people envisioning a new world and getting people on board for that. The Minister noted a key advantage of Dún Laoghaire is that it is a port town, which are always very open places, with Dún Laoghaire being the capital’s connection to the rest of Europe, a very cosmopolitan part of our country that was open to new things.

The Minister cited the director of the Dargan Forum, Eoin Costello, as having always been a person that had defied the negative pessimism that some people have about the town, that he has always taken a positive line on things and the Minister believed that it’s this kind of positive energy that can help build a better world.


Next it was down to the other end of Dún Laoghaire Town to the venue managed by Castlebar native Michelle Rabbette for a ‘Why Choose Mayo’ event being run as a fringe event of the Dargan Forum. Speakers included Michelle Rabbette, Stephen Carolan (Programme Manager, Connected Hubs) and Paraic Joyce, PRO for the Mayo Association Dublin. It was well attended by people who wanted to make a contribution to their county’s economic development.

As Thursday dawned bright sunlight brought out the best in Dún Laoghaire as attendees arrived for the opening of the Dargan Forum. An Cathaoirleach Cllr Jim O’Leary opened the jam-packed second annual Dargan Forum, held in the Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Council historic Assembly Room. An Cathaoirleach shared the vision of the Dargan Institute, to ensure that no community is left behind by advances in technology.

Inclusion and purpose in the digital age

Man speaking at podium.

Eoin Costello, national director of the Dargan Institute

The national director of the Dargan Institute clg, Eoin Costello, set the tone for the morning’s proceedings by saying we are moving from the age of Information Technology to Knowledge Technology.

“In the 21st century powerful virtual technologies such as cloud computing, AI and quantum computing will shape our lives in ways that we can only imagine. The objective of the Dargan Forum is ensuring that these powerful technologies are put to the service of people and places, leaving no one behind.”

Eoin explained to the audience: “I believe that meaning in work and belonging in place will be the glue and differentiator for localities in the 21st century and that the Dargan Institute clg was conceived for this very purpose – to bring together people to enhance teamwork and collaboration to navigate the green and digital transition.”

Eoin finished by saying: “The Dargan Forum is a call to changemakers to be the change that they want to see in the world.”

Green flying robots

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Echoing Eoin’s statement first up was a person who is introducing a very new way to carry out a very traditional business service.

Bobby Healy was the first guest to present how his business Manna Drone Delivery is harnessing technology for the benefit of local communities and business.

In a hugely entertaining presentation, Healy shared how his drone delivery business has the current capacity to do 1,000 deliveries a day, with drone deliveries being significantly more green than cars or even electric bikes.

The most popular product being delivered by drone is coffee, according to Healy.

He stated that he believes that his business has the capacity to radically alter how businesses sell and distribute their products, making them ‘Distribution Disruptors’.

Find the change makers

Opening the first section of the Forum (entitled ‘Reimagining localities as platforms for sustainable jobs’) the CEO of the Western Development Commission Allan Mulrooney shared his personal journey from beginning with a coffee shop in Strandhill to now heading up an organisation that has an investment fund that runs into the millions. The Western Development Commission have invested over €56 million in local businesses and have generated over 6,000 jobs in the Western area.

He outlined how things are changing across our communities and how, using a term he coined of the Tiny Massive, community resilience can be deepened, and with the support of the Western Development Commission (which celebrates 25 years since its establishment this year), to help create a brighter future for themselves and future generations. 

Mulrooney ended his contribution by asking the Dargan Forum audience to consider the question, “What can you do to create change in your community?”

Digital divides

The CEO of .ie, David Curtin spoke about the research .ie have been doing on and with rural businesses. “We studied 23 towns with 451 businesses included, and only 29% had a sophisticated website. This points to a huge missed opportunity.”

He added that the digital divide is especially stark in business communities. “There are digital divides, they are a reality. There is a divide between micro-businesses and larger companies. This impacts small businesses especially.” .ie are working on a Digital town Programme, to try and address some of the issues that impede digitisation.

Friction points

Founder of Enterprise Nation, Emma Jones spoke passionately about the work they do, supporting over 800k small businesses in the last six years. “For free, we connect businesses to supports, trusted advisors, and their peers. While research shows that effective digital adoption frees up time and money, there are a number of friction points that deter SME’s from utilising digital tech, Emma said. Enterprise Nation’s work attempts to address these difficulties, they work with large firms such as Meta and many others to deliver training and information to their members.

Ambitious plans

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If the first section was about the bigger picture, under the title ‘Shaping localities to serve people + our planet’ the next section of the Forum looked at what one locality, that of Dún Laoghaire, is doing in this regard.

Aidan Blighe, Director of Planning and Economic Development at Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Council and his colleague Paul Kennedy, Director of Infrastructure and Climate Change gave inspiring talks on the work being done in Dún Laoghaire to revitalise the county town, attract tourists, build community, and ensure a Green future.

Blighe called the plan “hugely ambitious” and spoke of success such as the re-introduction of the Christmas and St Patrick’s Day festivals, which generated front page coverage in a national paper, and plans to attract the film industry to the area.

Kennedy spoke of efforts to make public transport more accessible and attractive to residents, and of the ways the Council are engaging with local communities to ensure buy-in on changes being made. “We have a climate action community fund to bring ideas and initiatives at a local level.” Mr Kennedy said. “All those small pieces, like putting in a solar panel etc., add up to a big difference.”

Show them the opportunities

The Keynote speech on technology and small businesses was delivered by Minister of State in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment Dara Calleary T.D.. Minister Calleary emphasised the need to bring people with us on the technology journey. “Show them the opportunities. Acknowledge the challenges and show them how we’re addressing the challenges.” Minister Calleary stated that AI provides tremendous opportunities for society, but added that there is public concern that must be addressed. He stated that the Government is currently undertaking a public consultation on the issue. “We need to bring citizens with us, too many feel disconnected from the digital transformation that’s on the way. Those of us in this room know of the enormous benefits, that’s why events like the Dargan Forum are so important.”

The Forum then broke up into four parallel sessions, Empowering small businesses through digital led by Eoin Costello, Smart solutions for people & places led by DLR CoCo’s Ronan Herron, Digitalisation for towns and communities to thrive led by .ie’s Seán Tobin and Connecting places to their diaspora and heritage through genetic genealogy led by Gerard Corcoran.

Bringing the Dargan Forum to a close John Kennedy, editor of Think Business, shared his thoughts on the regeneration of Ireland’s rural towns and his own experience in Dún Laoghaire town earlier in his career. In his final statement he thanked Eoin and Nada for being proactive on this agenda, ‘all it takes to make a difference is a couple of committed people’ he said.

There was a wealth of knowledge, expertise and information to be found in the room at the Dargan Forum, the above post barely scratches the surface on the leading-edge speakers and ideas on display at the 2024 Dargan Forum.

Attendees and speakers left the County Council Headquarters for the adjoining Eblana Club for the final event of this year’s Forum, the Dún Laoghaire Business Association Garden Party. Guest of honour Frank Curran, the CEO of Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council said ‘You only need to take a walk around to realise why you should choose Dún Laoghaire for your business, from the harbour to the town centre there are new innovative projects in progress. Dun Laoghaire is not only the place to visit but to live and work. ‘ he said to the audience enjoying the basking sunshine.

Next up was the Ambassador of Denmark, Lars Thuesen, who said that Ireland and Denmark successfully built our relationship over the decades with very strong economies. In speaking to the theme of the Dargan Forum the Ambassador noted that one of the signs of change is that there are no longer Post Offices in Denmark, they have merged their activities with locations such as supermarkets.

And yes, the Dargan Forum 2025 is already in the calendar for 2 and 3 July next year!

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Inside Dun Laoghaire’s unique Digital HQ

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