Cabinet approves plan for Irish navy to step up work in Mediterranean

Leo Varadkar says the Defence Forces "want to do more to rescue refugees and combat human trafficking"

Cabinet approves plan for Irish navy to step up work in Mediterranean

LÉ Eithne in the Mediterranean. Image: Irish Defence Forces via Twitter

The Irish navy is to step up its work in the Mediterranean, as part of an international effort to clamp down on human trafficking.

The Cabinet today approved Ireland's participation in what is known as Operation Sophia.

A Dáil vote on the resolution is set to take place tomorrow.

If approved, it will mark a step up from the current duties, where Ireland has focused on rescuing refugees from open water.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says he believes the decision is "testament and evidence that the Government is committed to our Defence Forces", and suggested the Defence Forces "want to do more" in the Mediterranean.

He added: "It will of course happen under the triple lock - so Government approval today, [there is a] UN mandate in place, and we will be asking the Dáil tomorrow to approve that motion.

"I hope we will have full support across the House for the decision."

Operation Sophia was launched in 2015, with a core objective "to identify, capture and dispose of vessels and enabling assets used or suspected of being used by migrant smugglers or traffickers".

The operation currently involves ships and other vehicles from several EU countries, including France, Spain, Italy, Germany and Belgium. 

The Irish Defence Forces have rescued around 15,000 refugees & migrants in the Mediterranean as part of Operation Pontus, which got underway in 2015.