The Government is to consider a change in the status of Ireland's naval operations in the Mediterranean.

Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe will bring proposals to Cabinet on Tuesday seeking approval for Ireland to join the UN mandated, EU Naval group known as Operation Sophia.

At present Irish Navy operations in the Mediterranean are based on a bilateral arrangement with the Italian government. Operation Sophia was established in 2015 and involves naval vessels from several EU members.

The primary objective of Operation Sophia is to target and stop gangs using vessels for human trafficking mainly from Libya.

Over the last two years Irish naval personnel have saved almost 16,000 migrants in the southern Mediterranean operating on a humanitarian search and rescue basis.

Changing the status of current Irish Naval operations requires the Government to activate the so-called "triple lock".

This means any operation that would involve the Irish Defence Forces taking part in an international military operation must have UN sanction, the approval of the Cabinet and the approval of the Dáil.

The Government is proposing a Dáil motion for next Wednesday morning following Tuesday's Cabinet meeting.

Last December Minister Kehoe told the Dáil there were no plans at that stage for Ireland to join Operation Sophia.

It is understood that in January he asked a number of senior Defence Forces officers to travel to the Mediterranean to make an assessment of Operation Sophia and possible Irish involvement. It is on foot of their report that a change the status of the Irish mission is now being sought.

If approved Ireland would maintain its current level of deployment but our naval personnel would operate under a broader mandate to take action against mainly Libyan-based human traffickers.

Ships operating under Operation Sophia have been targeting, seizing and destroying some boats used by smugglers, once they are empty.

Operation Sophia is currently in what is called Phase 2. Phase 3, if activated, would involve a more aggressive approach to tackling human smuggling, including possible action on Libyan soil.

However, a move to Phase 3 would require approval by the EU Council, where Ireland has a veto, and it would also require a new UN Security Council mandate.

No discussions on Phase 3 have taken place to date and Government sources do not believe it will be activated.