Ireland urged to screen companies that maintain subsea cables

EU Commission recommends all EU member states take steps due to heightened security threats

Ireland must take action to ensure that submarine cables are secure, and put the private companies that build and maintain the cables under the highest level of security screening, the European Commission has said in a new document published this week.

The EU executive recommended given the “current context of heightened risk and antagonistic man-made security threats” it was essential for all member states to assess the vulnerability of undersea cables and take steps to protect them.

Crucial submarine cables that link Europe with the US run through Irish waters, and concerns have grown about their vulnerability to spying or potential sabotage due to mysterious attacks on key infrastructure in Europe and heightened tensions with Russia since the invasion of Ukraine.

The commission document recommends making efforts to map out crucial connections and allowing the use of EU funding to bolster their security, due to the “increased risk of attacks by malicious actors against critical maritime infrastructure, including submarine cables”.


Ireland is “almost entirely dependent on such submarine cables for intra-union communications”, along with the EU’s other island states Cyprus and Malta, the document reads.

It warns that governments around the world are “paying particular attention to their potential reliance on critical cables as systemic and widespread disruptions of submarine cable communications could lead to particularly serious consequences in case of co-ordinated attacks”.

It urged EU countries to nominate an authority in charge of overseeing the maintenance, planning, building and repair of undersea cables, treating them as having “the highest possible national significance” and their security as a matter of “overriding public interest”.

Private sector companies that operate submarine cable infrastructure should meet the “highest security standards... including defence-level standards, where appropriate”, the commission urged.

European commissioner Margrethe Vestager said that about 99 per cent of all data traffic passes through undersea cables, ranging from online shopping data to military communications and financial transactions. “It is of absolute strategic importance to know that these cables are secured,” she said, urging member states to take action “if they find that there are vendors that cannot be trusted” that are involved in their construction or maintenance.

Commissioner Thierry Breton noted that the EU was already funding a subsea connection to link Ireland with Portugal, France, and Spain, and that other projects are to link northern European countries to Canada and the United States through the Arctic as an alternative to the cables that run through the Atlantic.

“This is a way of multiplying access points. It’s also important to ensure they are secure,” he said. “When the cables link to whatever island it may be, you need to be sure that the appropriate protection is in place because it could be a way of getting in and making use of information.”

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Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times