The Minister for Defence, Willie O'Dea, has given the go ahead for Irish troops to serve with EU battle groups.

These formations are being set up by the EU as a rapid deployment force to stop potential unrest in many locations around the world from deteriorating into major crises.

The groups would involve an estimated 1,500 troops which could be sent within days to a trouble spot for a period of about three months. 22 EU states have already committed to the groups.

Mr O'Dea said the battle groups do not constitute a 'European Army' in any shape or form. He said Irish participation does not undermine Ireland's traditional neutrality, nor does it give rise to any constitutional issues.

New laws will be introduced so that Irish soldiers can undertake training overseas. And in future Irish soldiers may be ordered to participate in humanitarian missions after disasters such as the tsunami or earthquakes.

Irish involvement with the battle groups will not increase the ceiling of 850 Irish troops available for overseas missions.

The minister said he has authorised his officials to open up exploratory discussions with potential EU partners on Ireland's participation in the force.

Fine Gael has welcomed the move but said the so-called 'triple lock' governing Irish involvement should be amended.

The triple lock requires any Irish involvement to have UN, Government and Oireachtas approval.

The Fine Gael defence spokesperson, Billy Timmins, claimed this condition would 'continue to act as a barrier to Ireland acting quickly in a peacekeeping capacity'.