China has hit out at Government moves to ban Huawei equipment from Ireland’s telecoms network, saying the measures could undermine economic ties with the country.
Stinging criticism of the proposed ban from the Chinese embassy in Dublin comes days after the Biden administration banned Huawei technology in the US because of “unacceptable” national security risks.
The Government proposed the ban in October on the eve of a committee debate on draft communications law. With the Dáil debate already scheduled to move on to other matters, critics say the ban needs more scrutiny.
In an implicit reference to US measures, China claimed the motivation came from outside Ireland. “A sovereign country has its legitimate rights to protect its cyber security. But the concept of ‘high-risk vendor’ is a groundless accusation invented by some people out of Ireland to suppress Chinese high-tech companies,” the embassy said.
Huawei was not named in Communications Regulation Bill amendments from the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications, which gives the Minister powers to ban equipment from “high-risk vendors”.
But Huawei and companies using its equipment believe Huawei is the target, given US moves against the business. There was no comment from Huawei, which has 510 workers in Ireland.
The Government insisted the measures were “not aimed at any particular country or vendor” and were based on the “EU 5G security toolbox”, a European cybersecurity drive to protect networks.
“The new provisions provide for the Minister to assess the risk profile of vendors. No such assessment has yet taken place,” the Department said.
Vendors will be assessed using objective criteria, it added. “Any exclusions or restrictions will be based on clear legislation and a thorough risk assessment, in cases where there is a threat to national security.”
For national security reasons, the law will allow the Government to keep the reasons for any ban secret. It will be an offence with a prison term of up to five years for any company to breach an order to keep a ban confidential.
Independent TD Michael McNamara said the limitation on appeal rights could be open to Constitutional challenge, arguing the lack of debate was akin to “legislation by decree.”
“It’s a very fundamental principle of Irish law that you can challenge your accuser. If that principle is abandoned once, then it’s something that will inevitably spread to other areas. For the Dáil to legislate for that principle to be abandoned is a big step,” Mr McNamara said.
“For the Dáil to do it without any debate would be in my view perverse. It would be very ironic if all of this was to happen to combat concerns about democracy and concerns about an independent judiciary in another country.”