Coveney doesn't rule out Ireland's participation on EU mission to capture smugglers
THE Defence Minister hasn't ruled out Irish participation in an EU mission to capture and destroy people smugglers' vessels in the Mediterranean.
Mr Coveney said he'd be "very cautious" about committing the Naval Service to such an operation but that Ireland wasn't prohibited from taking part if the 'triple lock' of Government and Dail approval along with a UN mandate was satisfied.
The hardline mission against people traffickers - EUNAVFOR Med - was launched last month with British ship HMS Enterprise joining in recent days.
Mr Coveney said that the Government hasn't made a decision on participation, adding that Irish Naval involvement in the current humanitarian mission is his focus.
"I haven't really taken advice or looked for government feedback on how we'll respond to the broader mission. I think we're a few steps away from that," he said.
"I think getting a UN mandate for a more focused and pro-active approach towards dealing with people traffickers and smugglers in north Africa would probably take some time.
"So I think we'll have plenty of time to consider that."
His said his own view is that it was "unlikely" the Navy would be used in an enforcement mission of this type.
"I think we're performing a very good role at the moment and I think the ship that's here is really useful in that regard and I would be very cautious to go beyond that at this point," he added.
Mr Coveney said that the rescue operations undertaken by the Irish Naval vessel and her crew "have impacted significantly on the lives of so many people".
Mr Coveney said that there will be a continuing Irish presence there for the coming months with the LE Niamh replacing the LE Eithne soon.
"The work of our Naval Service in the Mediterranean is invaluable," he added.
"Ireland's focus will remain on continuing to assist the Italian authorities in the humanitarian search and rescue operation efforts to prevent further tragedy and loss of life at sea."
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, who was also on board the Irish Naval vessel the LE Eithne, praised the crew who put their lives on the line to save thousands of others.
Ms Fitzgerald said they're witnessing "the cutting edge of the human misery that is being caused by traffickers from North Africa, putting people into very unseaworthy boats", she added.