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Irish Naval Crew conduct the recovery of a Rigid Inflatable at sea. Irish Defence Forces

Undersea cables like those off Irish coast could have beefed up security under new EU naval plan

The strategy document, titled “An enhanced EU Maritime Security Strategy for evolving maritime threats, was released last week.

A NEW EU Commission report has recommended that support, including financial aid, be given to member States’ navies to better protect key infrastructure such as undersea cables and pipelines.  

The strategy document, released last week, is titled: “An enhanced EU Maritime Security Strategy for evolving maritime threats”.

The report repeatedly mentions the threat to undersea infrastructure and energy facilities on the surface. It was prompted by the war in Ukraine and concerns in the wake of the Nord Stream 2 sabotage incident. 

Sources have said that the strategy could benefit Ireland in funding and other support.

One senior security source said it “would make sense” for Ireland to enter into a collaborative agreement within an EU-operated programme.

Another senior security source, with knowledge of maritime operations, said that while the EU had a naval strategy, Ireland did not and that there would be a need to draft a national plan before any such steps could be taken. 

However, those sources also said that Ireland’s exemption from participation in EU joint military activities could make it difficult for Irish forces to participate in any of the strategies. 

There is likely to be some political resistance from the opposition about any such move if Ireland joins in with the strategy. Political parties such as People Before Profit and Sinn Féin have consistently expressed their concerns about a growing move away from Ireland’s traditional neutrality stance.

The Government has repeatedly stated that Ireland is not joining any military alliances. 

One key area is centred around the security of subsea cables and pipelines. The EU report recommends a strategy to increase naval forces capabilities across the EU to monitor the facilities.

The authors of the document also want to develop member States’ naval forces to the point that they are the dominant force in EU waters.

“In the area of defence, Member States should develop a full spectrum of maritime capabilities, making full use of the scope for cooperation under related EU initiatives,”  the strategy document said. 

“In particular, they should focus on boosting capabilities to ensure EU surface superiority, to project power at sea, to enable underwater control and to contribute to air defence.”


The security strategy repeatedly mentions undersea internet cables and pipelines similar to those located in the Irish sea and off the south coast.

It said this was a critical infrastructure not just for individual countries but also globally given that 99% of the world’s data flows through the lines.

Controversy has circulated around the Irish Navy’s ability to protect the subsea cables and pipelines. 

The Naval Service has a limited undersea capability and does not have sonar to monitor submarines. 

It is also suffering a shortage of crews which is having a profound impact on how many ships it can deploy.

52606544634_3f4664a405_o Irish Naval Ships at sea. Irish Defence Forces Irish Defence Forces

The report goes on to say that EU Member States will “improve their collective ability to defend their security”.

It also said that they would increase their resilience and preparedness for maritime security challenges, which include hybrid and cyber threats.

“The EU and its Member States should be able to react quickly, with coordinated civilian and military capabilities,” it said.

Irish Naval Service

Two new naval vessels are set to arrive from New Zealand soon but it is understood those vessels are inshore ships that will not be able to go into the deep Atlantic ocean.

In January, The Journal revealed that two ships were set to be tied up as they did not have enough crews to send them to sea.

Simon Coveney, the then Minister for Defence, told the Oireachtas in October 2022 that there was a need to patrol the sites of the cables and pipelines within Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone. 

The EU strategic report, said that concerns over the danger to pipelines in the wake of a sabotage attack on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in the Baltic Sea, has caused a serious rethink in regard to EU wide maritime security. 

To counter that threat to critical infrastructure, the EU is recommending that there be “continued supports” for members states. 

“It should improve current risk assessments on undersea cables and complement them with response options and mitigating measures building on cross-sectoral expertise and capacities.

It is imperative to provide continued support to Member States to develop underwater protective assets and counter-drone solutions.

In addition, the EU should continue to facilitate the coexistence of offshore renewable energy with defence activities, as advocated in the offshore renewable strategy,” the report said. 

The reference to offshore energy may be a reference to a recent incident in which Dutch authorities claimed that Russian agents were allegedly intent on damaging wind turbines and other North Sea oil facilities.

The report goes on to recommend that EU Member States should increase their co-operation with NATO partners to ensure that they can respond adequately to security problems in the maritime domain.

The document also references the prospect of placing EU naval ships in locations of “strategic interest to the EU”.


The Department of Defence (DOD) has said it is not in a position to comment on the updated strategic plan until it is discussed and endorsement at the Council of the European Union.

“However, as a committed EU Member State, Ireland fully supports efforts to improve the Union’s capacity to respond to the prevailing challenging security environment, including in the area of maritime security,” a spokesperson said. 

 The DOD said Ireland is currently participating in a PESCO project on Maritime (semi) Autonomous Systems for Mine Countermeasures (MAS MCM).

This project, the spokesperson said, aims to deliver devices to deal with maritime mines – explosive devices that are a hazard to shipping.

“The development of autonomous vehicles, using modern technology and an open architecture, adopting a modular set up, will contribute significantly to maritime security by helping counter the threat from sea-mines and other malign actors in the maritime domain.

“This will allow and enable the protection of shipping, harbours, critical offshore infrastructure and sea lines of communication and to safeguard freedom of navigation on maritime trade routes,” the spokesperson added. 

Ireland is also an observer status on the Harbour & Maritime Surveillance and Protection (HARMSPRO) PESCO project –  - this project is referenced in the report. 

This project is designed to allow member States carry out sophisticated surveillance and protection of maritime areas. It particularly focuses on areas where there is heavy shipping in harbours and areas close to the shoreline. 

This is designed to be provide “security and safety of maritime traffic and structures”.

“It will deliver an integrated system of maritime sensors, software and platforms (surface, underwater and aerial vehicles), which fuse and process data, to aid the detection and identification of a range of potential maritime threats,” the spokesperson said. 

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