Controversial spyware technology group with links to Ireland to be investigated by Justice Committee

Government has not said if it has used software that turns people’s phones into spying devices

An Oireachtas committee is to examine the existence of companies in Ireland involved in the production of spyware.

Spyware technology can secretly turn a person’s smartphone into a surveillance device, allowing for remote access to the microphone and camera on the phone as well as to stored text messages and photographs.

The decision by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice to consider the issue comes after it was written to by Fianna Fáil MEP Barry Andrews who said Ireland is at risk of becoming a “haven” for companies involved in the sale of spyware to countries with a history of human rights abuses.

In his letter to the committee chair, party colleague James Lawless TD, Mr Andrews said he was in particular writing about the Intellexa group, which produces a phone hacking technology called Predator and has companies based in Ireland.


Intellexa was established by a former Israeli intelligence officer called Tal Dilian and has a number of subsidiaries in Europe and the Caribbean. Its holding company, Thalestris Ltd, and a subsidiary called Intellexa Ltd, have their registered address on Foley Street, in Dublin. It is not known how many staff, if any, they employ in this jurisdiction.

The use of Predator to spy on politicians and journalists in Greece, where the group has a subsidiary also called Intellexa Ltd, is the cause of a huge ongoing controversy there. Earlier this month, the Greek Data Protection Authority issued Intellexa with a €50,000 fine for not co-operating with an investigation into the use of the technology in the jurisdiction.

In a draft report published in November for a committee of inquiry of the European Parliament that is investigating the use of spyware, it was noted the Government had refused to respond to questions from the Currency website about whether Thalestris or Intellexa had ever approached it or whether the State had ever used the spyware group’s services.

“For sound operational and national security reasons it would not be appropriate to comment on the details of national security arrangements, nor would it be appropriate to disclose the department’s cyber security arrangements or those of state offices, agencies and bodies under the department’s remit,” the report quoted the Government as having said.

Draft findings of The Committee of Inquiry to investigate the use of Pegasus and equivalent surveillance spyware (Pegasus is a spyware product produced by an Israeli company called the NSO Group) said Ireland offers “favourable fiscal arrangements to a large spyware vendor”.

A Canadian cybersecurity watchdog organisation called Citizen Lab has said it has detected the use of Predator in Armenia, Egypt, Greece, Indonesia, Madagascar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Columbia, Ivory Coast, Vietnam, the Philippines and Germany. A recent report by a group called Lighthouse Reports said it had established that the technology had been sold to a notorious militia in Sudan called Rapid Support Forces.

There is no evidence of any links between these sales and the Intellexa operations in Ireland. Sales of the software from this jurisdiction would require a licence as Predator is considered dual use technology or technology that can have civilian and military uses. The Dept of Enterprise told The Irish Times in early January that no sales licence had been requested by Intellexa. A request for a comment from the company got no response.

In its corporate filings in Ireland, Intellexa Ltd describes its activity as providing “intelligence products for law enforcement agencies”. The consolidated accounts for the group record total global sales of €34 million in 2021. There are no figures available for employees in Ireland.

“It would appear that Ireland is at risk of becoming a haven for companies selling software used in human rights abuses,” Mr Andrews said in his letter to the Oireachtas committee. “I am hopeful that the Joint Committee on Justice can investigate this issue as a matter of importance.”

The committee wrote back to the MEP saying it had considered the matter during a private meeting on January 18th and agreed to add the topic to its work programme for 2023.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent