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Tánaiste Simon Coveney was among those lobbied on the matter. Leah Farrell/

Irish government warned by US authorities on safety fears over Huawei 5G rollout

The US has sought to ban the Chinese firm from building 5G infrastructure there over safety and privacy fears.

THE US ADMINISTRATION has raised concerns about 5G technology provided by Chinese firms such as Huawei with the Irish government, with a US Senator specifically raising it with Tánaiste Simon Coveney during a meeting late last month.

The most recent case of the issue being raised with the Tánaiste comes after a number of recent engagements between US embassy officials on the worries the US has over the security of 5G networks from the Asian country.

Minister for Communications Richard Bruton has also discussed the matter with diplomats from the US Embassy in Dublin since the start of this year, but the position adopted by the government at this stage is that it is “monitoring ongoing developments with regard to concerns regarding the security of 5G networks”.


5G is the latest in mobile technology, and the successor to 4G which is currently on phone networks in Ireland.

It’ll be faster than the current iteration. But it’s not available yet.

The infrastructure to make it possible isn’t ready in many areas yet and the US, in particular, is aiming to prevent Chinese firms such as Huawei stealing a march on these developments. 

In recent months, the US has made clear its deep suspicions that Huawei’s technology would offer the Chinese government the ability to monitor internet traffic on 5G, making it a security risk.

Chinese law obliges companies headquartered in the country to provide technical assistance to intelligence services, but Huawei has strenuously denied allegations its equipment could be used for espionage.

The company has already sped ahead with their development of 5G ahead of rivals such as Nokia and Ericsson, with the next-gen tech offering near-instantaneous internet connectivity.

The US, however, has shut out Huawei from applying for tenders for 5G, prompting the firm to take court action against it in the States.

It has warned that Huawei’s equipment could be manipulated by China’s government to spy on other countries and disrupt critical communications, and is urging nations to shun the company.

These concerns have been echoed by the UK, which a government report there recently saying they’d identified “significant” in Huawei’s engineering processes that pose “new risks” for the nation’s telecommunications.

A Huawei spokesman said it was taking the British concerns “very seriously” and they would be used as part of its “ongoing” process to improve its capabilities.

Irish involvement

It has already been reported that the US has been advising Germany in recent weeks of its concerns over Huawei’s 5G tech, and it is now clear Ireland has also received similar warnings.

One of these came during a meeting of Simon Coveney and Democrat Senator Chris Murphy last month, as well as further lobbying of Department Secretary General Niall Burgess and other officials.

Responding to a parliamentary question from Fianna Fáil’s Niall Collins, Tánaiste Coveney confirmed the contact.

He said: “With regard to the use of technology by the company in question, this issue has been raised with me at meetings with Congressional leaders and at senior official level, and it has also been raised by the US Administration with officials in my Department.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs told that the matter has now arisen in numerous contacts between US and Irish officials.

“In recent engagements, US Embassy officials and a Member of the US Congress have raised with the Tánaiste and with Irish officials concerns about the utilisation of 5G technology provided by Chinese companies, such as Huawei,” the spokesperson said.

This issue was specifically raised with the Tánaiste on 22 March, in the context of a meeting with a US Senator, which the US Chargé also attended.
This issue has also been raised on a number of separate occasions by US Embassy officials in the course of wide-ranging discussions with the Secretary General of this Department, as well as with officials in the Department’s Asia-Pacific Unit and Ireland, UK, Americas Division.

The government says it’s monitoring developments with regard to the concerns regarding the security of 5G networks.

This monitoring extends to the Irish government evaluating the most recent advice issued by the European Commission on the matter, which was published last week.

Europe’s take

The Commission has stopped short of urging countries against making deals with Huawei for the creation of 5G technology, similar to bans in the US, Australia and Japan.

But it has said that concrete steps will be taken to determine the extent of the risk and encourage EU members to share information it has on the matter.

The plan, unveiled at a news conference at the EU parliament in Strasbourg, calls for member states to report back on any security threats to their national network infrastructure by June 30.

After that, the European Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) will be given to October 1 to produce a report evaluating the risks at a European level.

Then member states will debate what if any measures to take, with a decision before the end of the year.

Huawei cautiously welcomed the EU approach.

“Huawei understands the cybersecurity concerns that European regulators have. Based on the mutual understanding, Huawei looks forward to contributing to the European framework on cybersecurity,” the firm said.

“We are firmly committed to continue working with all regulators and partners to make the 5G rollout in Europe a success.”

Following Europe’s lead

With the EU’s advice issued, the Irish government is currently “evaluating” its recommendation.

The next step will also involving looking at how “it will mesh with the work already under way in the context of the next National Cyber Security Strategy and Comreg’s existing roles around the security and integrity of the telecommunications networks,” the spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

Minister for Communications Richard Bruton echoed this last week, telling Collins that Irish officials would engage with other member states before taking the appropriate action.

Opposition TDs have said the lack of further statements from the government to date on 5G rollout is worrying.

Fianna Fáil’s James Lawless said the government needs to “wake up to the fact” there are genuine concerns from around the world on this issue.

“I have been contacted privately by senior sources in the telecoms and IT industry.  They have warned me that companies in their sector are becoming increasingly concerned about Huawei and that they will refuse to work on networks which may potentially be compromised,” he said.

The Government needs to understand that they have to deal with this issue head on, that they can’t shy away from it as it will have long-term ramifications.

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