The Head of UCD’s Politics department David Farrell has condemned what he characterised as an “attack on academic freedom” by the chief executive of Huawei Ireland.

Huawei Ireland Chief, Tony Yangxu wrote a letter to Defense Minister Simon Coveney to complain about an article published in Defence Forces Review last December. In the article, Dr Richard Maher of the Politics Department of UCD cast doubt on “Huawei’s inclusion in Ireland’s 5G network” arguing that it “introduces serious and arguably unmanageable security risks and challenges.”

Maher argued that as Huawei has “suspected links to the Chinese government and Communist Party” it could “potentially” be more “susceptible to government pressure”.

Yangxu said the academic paper constituted an “extraordinary and completely false attack” on the company and that he was “quite shocked and dismayed that such an article would appear in the DFR”. The DFR is a publicly funded paper.

Academic Freedom

Responding to an Irish Times article written by Jack Power, detailing the letter written by Huawei, the Head of UCD’s Politics at UCD David Farrell wrote on Twitter:

“On behalf of my colleagues at @ucddublin @ucdpolitics, I condemn this attack on academic freedom by Huawei_Europe’s Ireland chief. I expect a robust response from @SimonHarrisTD as [Higher Education] Minister & from the recipient of the letter @simoncoveney”.

UCD academics are afforded academic freedom as detailed in the Statement on Academic Freedom which was written upon the request of former UCD President Hugh Brady as an addition to section 14 (1) of the Universities Act of 1997.

The Irish Universities Act states that “A member of the academic staff of a university shall have the freedom, within the law, in his or her teaching, research and any other activities either in or outside the university, to question and test received wisdom, to put forward new ideas and to state controversial or unpopular opinions and shall not be disadvantaged, or subject to less favourable treatment by the university, for the exercise of that freedom.”

This statute does not forbid the criticism of the writings of academics by foreign governments, academics or external bodies. While Yangxu states that Huawei is “a strong supporter of the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression” the letter states that the principle is a “two-way street”. Huawei Ireland are not asking for the censorship of, nor removal of, this article but are requesting that the Defense Secretary support Huawei in “mitigating the damage” done by the article and “ensuring it does not contaminate” the future of their dealings in Ireland.

The College Tribune has requested clarification from Huawei Ireland regarding the description of academic freedom as a “two-way street” shortly before publication and will update this article upon receiving a response,

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What is in the Huawei Letter?

Released to Jack Power under FOI, the letter written by Huawei requests a meeting with the Secretary-General of the Department of Defense and Minister Coveney. The full letter is available below.

The letter denies ownership links to the Chinese government stating “Huawei is a private company wholly owned by its employees”, that the companies “relationship with the Chinese government is no different to any other private company.

In response to Maher stating that Huawei may “susceptible to government pressure”, the company have restated that “no Chinese law could ever force Huawei” to access “intellectual property and data via telecom networks”.

Huawei state that they were not afforded a chance to respond to “counterbalance the false allegations made” by Dr Maher before the publication of the DFR. Huawei note that had the article appeared in a newspaper it would have given Huawei “right of reply”.

The full letter released to Jack Power and the Irish Times on Huawei.
The full letter released to Jack Power and the Irish Times.

Huawei has extensive links to UCD, their R&D operations in Ireland work with Science Foundation Ireland research centres including UCD. UCD Foundation announced that Huawei launched a new ‘TECH4HER’ scholarship programme in UCD and TU Dublin which aims to support female STEM students.

Huawei is also listed as the “platinum event sponsor” of a number of events related to the centenary celebration of the UCD’s School of Engineering. The technology company have extensive financial links to the University College Dublin.

Hugh Dooley – News Editor

Additional reporting from: Adam Conway – Reporter