Urgent action required to meet security threats from sea, air and online - report

By Cormac O'Keeffe
Security Correspondent

The urgent need to address gaps in maritime and air security, and the threat posed by cyber attacks, feature prominently in submissions made to the country's first national security strategy.

A total of 60 submissions have been made in a public consultation launched by the newly-established National Security Analysis Centre.

The NSAC, based within the Department of the Taoiseach, is drawing up the State's first-ever National Security Strategy.

While the submissions have not yet been published by the department a number are available on the websites of bodies that have made them

In its detailed submission, the Association of Retired Commissioned Officers (ARCO) said the threats to Ireland's national security range from energy security, espionage and extremism to hybrid warfare, major pandemics, nuclear contamination and terrorism.

The submission, authored by Brigadier-General Paul Pakenham (Retd), said that ISIS is “likely to reemerge in the short to medium term”.

It said the concept of military neutrality was “flawed and outdated” and that cyber-enabled attacks and hybrid warfare “do not respect Ireland's military neutrality posture".

ARCO said a “substantial increase” in investment in defence capabilities is required, pointing out that Ireland has the lowest defence spend in the EU, at 0.3% of GDP (average 1.3%).

It said the trans American-European sea and air lanes are in “close proximity” to Ireland and that Ireland's significant reliance on sea lanes presents a potential risk.

The Irish Maritime Forum, an independent professional body, also looked at on sea lanes of communication.

It wants an increased focus, by boosting the Naval Service, to protect Ireland's maritime domain, which is the largest in northwest Europe, with 92% of Ireland's area being underwater.

“We are a small trading nation living on an island and 99% (by volume) of everything we import or export is transported by sea," it said.

“The sea and air traffic between northern Europe and the USA passes close to our shores and through or above waters over which we have jurisdiction or for which we have responsibility.”

It said that any interruption to sea borne trade “would cause an immediate crisis” and that while there may be limited threat it could happen further afield.

It urged the planned introduction of counter-mine and counter-IED capabilities, which it said is paused.

The Marine Renewables Industry Association said offshore renewables are “critical” for Ireland's future energy supplies and that their security should be considered of “paramount importance”.

In addition, the body said security regulations should be introduced regarding the undersea cables running near or through Irish waters.

It said the Naval Service should have lead responsibility with the NSAC playing an intelligence role.

It said threats are posed by drones and mines and called for the promised mine counter-measures.

The Reserve Defence Forces Representative Association said key sectors such as power generation, telecommunications and the financial-tech industries are “woefully exposed” because of a lack of an overarching defensive framework.

It said the “crisis” that was underinvestment in the Naval Service needs to be addressed “as a matter of priority”.

It said there had been “an overreliance” on An Garda Síochána for state security with some of the threats were “outside their competences”.

It said the Communication and Information Services (CIS) Corps of the Defence Forces should be used to develop cyber defence capabilities.

It called for investment in the defence of maritime borders and undersea cables.

It said the Air Corps needed, at a minimum, first step an active radar system that can detect military aircraft operating without transponders.

It said there was a “grotesque imbalance” between civil servants and senior military leaders, resulting in a “near toxic working relationship”.

The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) said it is "likely" that the future 5G networks will be a target of a "State actor-sponsored attacks".

The threat is all the greater as 5G networks are set to become the "backbone for essential services" such as energy, transport, banking, health and other utilities.

It calls for a formal mechanism to enable controlled access to, and sharing of, national security intelligence among State agencies and public providers of services.

It said the NSAC needs to be properly resourced, in order to attract and retain the necessary expertise, to perform its functions and fund its activities.

The Department of the Taoiseach said the 60 submissions came from a variety of individuals and organisations in the public, private and academic sectors.

Work is on-going with regard to analysing the range of views expressed in submissions as well as the responses to the four specific questions posed in the consultation," it said. "There is also

"continuing direct engagement with a range of relevant stakeholders and on developing possible themes for the strategy.”

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