Top navy officer flags need to protect sub-sea cables

Capt Brian Fitzgerald, second in command of the Irish Naval Service, also said he has 'concerns' about Ireland's ability to enforce the law
Top navy officer flags need to protect sub-sea cables

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Ireland needs to develop the ability to monitor threats to sub-sea cables passing through Irish-controlled waters given the “tremendous” impact of any interference with them, a top Irish naval officer has said.

Captain Brian Fitzgerald, who retires at the end of March as second in command of the Irish Naval Service, warned that if sub-sea cables are cut, business and the internet will not grind to a halt but “snap to a halt”.

In a wide-ranging and lengthy address at University College Cork on maritime security, Capt Fitzgerald said Ireland had an enormous maritime jurisdiction and that it had to provide a 'constant presence'.

He said he was concerned about illegal fishing vessels, many of which were capable of extracting “€5-6m worth of fish” in one trip, and that he had “some concerns” about Ireland’s ability to enforce the law despite the work of the navy.

Capt Fitzgerald said that, in addition, Brexit had created enormous challenges for the Naval Service in that it had to police a 1,315km long sea border with Britain, which he said had created a “volumetric explosion of administration” regarding the cross-border movement of fishing vessels.

He said Ireland had responsibility for policing the Exclusive Economic Zone, which stretches 200 nautical miles west and south west off our coast.

He said the transatlantic cables were considered as possibly “one of the biggest vulnerabilities internationally” given the extent to which society was dependent on the internet.

“People should know that if sub-sea cables are interfered with or cut, that business and the internet will not grind to a halt — they will snap to a halt," he said. "So, the impact is tremendous.” 

He said the best place to interfere with the cables is where the water is shallow, as they are easiest to get to.

“The shallower waters are on the continental shelf and Ireland is lying immediately adjacent to some of the busiest sub-sea cables on the planet — we have a number coming into the island particularly in the Irish sea. 

So, we have to develop a capability that will be able to respond to any threat to these sub-sea cables going forward, their importance is too great.

“So, the ability to look under the sea is a crucial element of our state’s architecture that we should be developing.”

He said that danger also exists from unilateral countries pursuing their own interests or in the aftermath of major event such as a terrorist attack, environmental catastrophe or a maritime security threat.

"As we near the centenary of our independence it is high time Ireland steps forward and truly rules her own waves," he said.

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