Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation

Control of Exports Bill 2021: Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment

Dr. Eamonn Cahill:

I thank the Deputy and I will do my best. The Deputy is entirely correct in that this is a very technically complicated area both in terms of the legislative framework we have to operate in as well as the actual items at the centre of all of this.

Before I attempt to answer the Deputy’s question, the list is fully in the public domain. That is a key element of their mechanism to ensure that there is maximum transparency. The list is written in very technical terms by engineers and technical experts specifically for the purpose of removing any ambiguity so that any potential exporters should be fairly readily able to identify whether or not their items, based on their performance characteristics, come within the scope of the regulation.

To try to put some colour on this for the Deputy, as she has noted, the range is vast. It ranges from materials and chemicals that could be used for producing chemical weapons or explosives but which also have very legitimate industrial and agricultural applications. I emphasised in my presentation the importance of the information and computer technology, ICT, category 5. The equipment that the Deputy has in her office and around her in data storage, firewalls, and anti-virus products, many of which have fairly mainstream business applications, are subject to export control. To be frank, this is almost a legacy of the Cold War era in the concerns about items with strong encryption getting into certain parts of the world with the potential for them to be reverse engineered and so forth. Those are the bulk of the items that are exported out of Ireland.

As to equipment and machines, items, for instance as are much in vogue at the moment, such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, ABS, manufacturing 3-D printing machines, can be used to high precision and even more mainstream computerised numerical control, CNC, machines, or working metal in the production of high precision components. There are also things as mundane as pumps that might be used in a food production environment in a factory for moving slurries around, which have to have a Teflon non-corrosive coating on them for obvious hygiene reasons. Those same pumps also tend to be the types of things one needs if one is cooking up chemical weapons because the Teflon prevents the acids corroding them, and so forth.

It is quite extraordinary and shocking when one goes through the regulation first just to see how many fairly common or garden industrial items can be put to nefarious purposes if someone is sufficiently creative and so minded.