The Minister for Defence has said that there are major security risks for Irish troops who may be sent to Liberia.

But Michael Smith said everything possible will be done to ensure they all return safely.

He was speaking after the soldiers organisation, PDFORRA, demanded that priority be given to safety.

At its annual conference in Waterford, PDFORRA said Liberia may the toughest foreign assignment faced by Irish troops following years of atrocities and the breakdown of social and political systems there.

LE Niamh leaves Cork naval base

The Naval Service vessel, LE Niamh, left the Haulbowline Naval Base in Cork this morning for the troubled west African country.

The Navy are setting up a base for an Irish Army reconnaissance mission ahead of a possible deployment of 450 Irish troops as part of a UN peacekeeping force in post-civil-war Liberia.

The deployment has not yet been passed by the Dáil.

In eight days' time the ship will reach the port of Monrovia, where it will provide security back-up, communications and logistic support for the Army party.

The Niamh is carrying military vehicles and stores aboard.

The reconnaissance mission is to establish a base and plan for the deployment of 400 troops due to go to Liberia later this year.

Criticism of Fine Gael leader

PDFORRA earlier criticised the FG leader, Enda Kenny, over his call for the benchmarking deal to be renegotiated.

The organisation said he should clarify whether he wants the benchmarking rise withheld from the Defence Forces after he said last month the benchmarking deal was bad value for taxpayers.

It claims members have already delivered additional flexibility and productivity and have no problem in honouring benchmarking commitments.