Telecommunications Industry Ireland Calls for Dedicated Digital Minister

John Keaney, CEO of SIRO, has been appointed as Chair of Telecommunications Industry Ireland (TII), the Ibec representative body for the electronic communications industry in Ireland. As part of this role, Keaney will focus on the priorities TII has set out for political parties as part of the General Election 2020 campaign.

Central to these priorities is the need for a dedicated Minister for Communications and Digital to lead Ireland’s digital agenda with the industry body setting out a number of key priorities such as combatting the growing opposition to the rollout of 5G, greater rural mobile connectivity, increasing cybersecurity and combatting digital piracy.

One of TII’s key concerns is the growing opposition to the rollout of 5G which risks damaging job creation and undermining the ambition for Ireland to be a digital leader. The industry body has called on Government to issue a Ministerial letter to all councils setting out the benefits of 5G, clarifying the safety standards and the role of councils in rolling out this service. TII would welcome the establishment of an expert scientific panel under the aegis of the Environmental Protection Agency to monitor the relevant scientific safety standards in relation to the 5G rollout in order to dispel the false claims being made about health risks.

Mobile Connectivity Investment in Rural Ireland

TII is also calling for more investment in rural mobile connectivity, highlighting that the telecoms sector has paid €932 million for spectrum licences since 2012 and generates substantial VAT and other tax revenues for the Exchequer. The industry body recommends that spectrum fees and receipts from spectrum auctions transferred to the Exchequer should be allocated for investment in initiatives to improve mobile coverage in rural areas.

Cybersecurity and digital piracy threats are also major concerns. TII has called on Government to allocate adequate resources to the National Cybersecurity Centre to meet the growing cyber threat. The industry body also recommends establishing a taskforce involving the Revenue Commissioners, An Garda Síochána and the relevant Government Departments to combat digital piracy.

As a major employer and investor in the Irish economy, with over 25,000 working in the sector and a combined investment of approximately €3Bn over the past five years by industry players, TII believes that Ireland’s digital future is at a crucial junction with a need for Government to play a key role to ensure the right conditions are present to deliver long term success.

Connectitivy is the Bedrock of the Irish Economy

Commenting on TII’s ask of the next Government, Keaney said: “Connectivity is the bedrock of the economy. Where we had railroads and canals in the past, business today is underpinned by data and is entirely dependent on our telecoms infrastructure. We should not be complacent as we are seeing increased opposition to the rollout of 5G, which is founded on baseless claims and the next Government will have a clear role in making sure the public clearly understand the benefits of the technology. There are a variety of other challenges facing the next administration such as cybersecurity, digital piracy and ultimately, we believe that the next Taoiseach needs to put a dedicated Digital Minister in place given the importance of the sector to the country.”

Keaney succeeds Shay Walsh, Managing Director of BT Ireland, who served as Chair of TII in 2019. John Keaney has been CEO of SIRO, the joint venture of ESB and Vodafone which is investing €450 million in building Ireland’s first 100% Fibre-to-the-Building broadband network, since 2018. Prior to this, Keaney served as Financial Director at SIRO since 2014. He joined SIRO following a ten-year period with Vodafone where he served in a variety of roles including Head of Financial Operations and Financial Controller. Prior to joining Vodafone in 2004, Keaney was a senior manager with Deloitte. He is a qualified accountant and holds an Economics degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science.