FRIDAY IN FOCUS
The secret world of the IEDR
Seven months after infighting at the IE Domain Registry ended with the suspension of its CEO, questions linger about the organisation's present and future.
In the last month, the IEDR's business development and operations manager Suzanne Kerrigan was dismissed. Her departure from the firm, which controls the issuing of "dot-ie" Web site names in Ireland, follows the exodus of four other key personnel at the company. At least two of these former staffers are seeking legal advice against the IEDR relating to their employment.
Although new staff have been brought on, including a handful of brand new credit control personnel to enforce the IEDR's now more stringent payment terms, the departures give some indication of the internal turmoil at the registry. "I have never been so demoralised," said Lynn Montgomery, a former IEDR worker who resigned in December. Other staff members felt the same way, she added.
Meanwhile, last week the IEDR was expected to officially dismiss its auditor, BCW Registered Auditors, the company that has been the watchful eye over the organisation's books for the last few years.
The unrest of the last few weeks is just the latest chapter in the stormy tale of the IE Domain Registry, a not-for-profit venture set up by University College Dublin to control Ireland's top-level "dot-ie" domain. The IEDR's role means it has tremendous power - think of the registry as the Internet equivalent of a planning authority, with absolute discretion to decide who gets what Web site name, and to set the charges for registration. Domain registration is a serious business in Ireland, bringing in revenues of around EUR2 million a year for the registry.
The problem is that many in the Internet industry itself - including companies and individuals who must go through the IEDR to register Web site names on behalf of clients - want major changes to the way the IEDR does business, including far more financial transparency. They also want to make it faster, easier and cheaper to register a Web site name, changes they believe can only happen if the registry is amputated from UCD, but that doesn't seem likely any time soon.
In fact, the registry's CEO Mike Fagan, who was in favour of splitting from UCD, was suspended seven months ago by Prof. John Scanlan, who accused Fagan of financial improprieties. Fagan remains suspended on full pay (over EUR100,000 per year), and the company cannot replace him as CEO until he resigns or can legally be sacked.
The Internet industry, meanwhile, through industry groups like IE Watch, is struggling to find out exactly what's going on at the troubled registry, and what its relationship is with UCD. IE Watch member Antoin O Lachtnain has even kept a Web log (http://www.eire.com//blogarchives/000029.html) of his campaign to get to the bottom of things at the IEDR.
UCD has refused point blank to give O Lachtnain access to documents he has requested, including internal company memos and correspondence with global domain registry groups like ICANN, saying the material could give rise to unwanted media attention. But, according to O Lachtnain, the Information Commissioner's Office has confirmed that his requests are valid, and that UCD and the IEDR must open their files.
O Lachtnain says he is seeking the papers "in order to determine the exact nature of the relationship between UCD and the IEDR." Indeed, O Lachtnain's first official request for correspondence came just days after the blow-up between Scanlan and Fagan; Fagan has often accused IEDR's board of trying to pull the non-profit back into the hands of UCD, although Scanlan and his spokespeople have repeatedly denied these allegations.
It was over three years ago that the IEDR's Memorandum & Articles of Association were to be lodged with the Companies Registration Office to sever the IEDR from UCD. This original Memo & Arts, drafted in early 2000 with the help of BCW Registered Auditors, never made its way to the CRO and a second version was instead filed, with this incarnation giving UCD more influence over the IEDR. Yet another version was drafted that would have effected the split in a clean and timely manner, but it's alleged that this version also never found its way to the CRO, and officially IEDR won't comment on the matter.
There had been some hope that government would make a move, such as taking over the registry on an interim basis, to ensure that the IEDR maintains a modicum of credibility, as well as financial stability. Tanaiste Mary Harney, TD, for her part, has communicated her concerns to Communications Minister Dermot Ahern, TD, although his office has said little on the matter, at least not publicly.
Meanwhile, even more rumours are circulating about the financial health of the IEDR under the stewardship of Scanlan and Financial Controller David Curtin, who has been filling the day-to-day gap since Fagan left. The stories suggest that spiralling expenses for lawyers, accountants, consultants and other costs have put the IEDR under severe pressure and it is understood that in January 2003 the IEDR received three sums of cash totalling EUR145,000 from an unknown backer.
UCD and the current IEDR management have refused numerous requests to give their side of the story or comment on whether UCD was the source of the funds. In fact, the publicity-shy company has been reluctant to make any comment whatsoever on the state of the business, answering "no comment," only through spokespeople, to even the most basic of our questions.
O Lachtnain says he is not convinced he will ever uncover the nature of the relationship between university and registry. He says he expects his battle to find the truth will extend into the courts -- a fight he says he is prepared to wage.