There is one topic that neither side has put on the table in the EU-UK divorce negotiation, and that’s just as it should be. There is no reason at all why the political wrangling over Brexit and the shape of a final deal should be a barrier to the closest possible co-operation on cybersecurity between Britain and Ireland and, indeed, other EU members.
It’s an inter-governmental, cross-border relationship that is quite rightly completely beyond the bounds of EU treaties and agreements. That is why the head of Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre, an agency that has dealt with more than 1,100 attacks since it was created in 2016, has been able to report that work on creating an improved partnership with Ireland’s cybersecurity centre, Garda, and Defence Forces staff is to continue. The aim is to strengthen defences against grave criminal conspiracies and threats to the safety of both states.
Recent reports by the Policing Commission and the Comptroller & Auditor General have highlighted the weaknesses in the state of Ireland’s still embryonic cyberdefences. The unit’s budget has been reduced and staffing remains minimal. The Government committee charged with setting out a national strategy had not met since 2015.
Co-operation with our nearest neighbour will be vital, but it cannot be a substitute for the increased investment in staffing and kit that our centre needs. It will be expensive, but given the risks to public services, infrastructure, and the many tech companies operating here, the Government cannot afford not to find the money needed.