A Dáil committee has heard that Ireland's spend on cyber security should be 25 times greater than its current level.

Chair of the Transport Committee, Fine Gael TD Kieran O'Donnell, said that expert testimony advised an operating budget of "about €50 million a year" was needed to be on a par with the UK.

Ossian Smyth, Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, said that the total budget for the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) is "approaching €7m" this year.

However, the bulk of this goes on capital spending.

Only €2m is for current expenditure, the minister revealed.

This means that the operating budget should be "25 times what is currently being spent", Deputy O'Donnell suggested.

"I honestly think that money is a red herring in this," Minister Smyth said.

A review by global security firm FireEye reveals that the NCSC is "currently under-resourced and over-tasked, providing advice to c. 120 Operators of Essential Services, or Digital Service Providers".

The agency is experiencing a "significant burden", and the report warns that increasing demands to comply with EU requirements "will add considerable strain".

Among the report's 45 recommendations are securing "a defined single budget to enable longer term planning".

Deputy O'Donnell said the overall view in the report is that, despite capable staff, "structurally" the NCSC "is not fit for purpose".

Minister Smyth rejected this assessment.

He said that some politicians and media outlets are pushing "the idea ... that the entire country's cyber-security is being protected by – you know - 29 people and €7m".

"And that is absolutely not the case," he insisted.

"There should be hundreds ... working in cyber security", Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell insisted.

"We need a director of intelligence", the Senator added, "and one single intelligence agency".

The Minister noted that the NCSC will see a rise from "25 to 45 staff over the next 18 months".

This will add €2.5m to its operating budget next year.

The vacant post of Director is to be readvertised, he said. It has been filled on an interim basis for six months.

But the Minister advised committee members against "focusing all the time on the NCSC".

"It's a very small proportion of the cyber security expenditure to protect the state", he added.

However, Minister Smyth acknowledged he does not know what that level of expenditure is.

"I'd love to be able to tell you that", the Minister told the committee, but admitted that he does not have "the accounting".

He estimated that "you're looking into the hundreds of millions of euro".

Minister Smyth then agreed to a suggestion from the chair to do "a body of work" to establish just how much the Government is spending on cyber security.

He also said, "the truth is, that Ireland was not particularly targeted" in the cyber-attack on the HSE last May.

"Hospitals all around the world have been randomly attacked," the Minister told Fianna Fáil TD, James O'Connor.

Deputy O'Connor suggested that Ireland was seen as "an open goal".

We are "an easy place to come in and fish for peoples' personal data," he added.

"Even those who have the greatest cyber defences can be victims," the Minister responded.

Deputy O'Connor expressed concern at the Minister's reassurances, given in the face of what he called "existential risks".