Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe has said it is understandable that people have concerns about Irish troops participating in a UN mission in Mali.

A proposal for Ireland's special forces to join the UN mission in Mali was debated in the Dáil this evening.

The Minister said decisions to put troops in danger are never taken lightly by Government and protecting personnel is always of paramount concern.

He said he had taken advice from military management who have visited Mali and who know first-hand what is happening there.

Minister Kehoe has proposed that a team of 12 Rangers would conduct long-range intelligence gathering patrols.

The team would work closely with the 400-person German contingent in MINUSMA (Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali).

The Army Ranger Wing would be serving abroad on a mission for the first time in more than a decade.

Minister Kehoe said this evening there were significant security measures in place which would give protection to the Irish forces.

He said Irish forces would be deployed as part of a larger team when carrying out surveillance and intelligence.

He said the mission was a type of challenge that defence forces train for every day.

Fianna Fáil's Jack Chambers said his party would be supporting the motion on the advice of military management who had carried out precautions in this region.

However, he said it was an extremely dangerous mission and was a hot bed for terrorist activity.

Meanwhile, People Before Profit's Richard Boyd Barrett said they would be opposing the proposal to send Irish rangers to what he described as a "deadly" conflict in Mali.

He said the political decision being made was a big mistake from the point of view of Ireland's neutrality and from the point of view of the safety of Irish soldiers.

Deputy Boyd Barrett said it was a French colonial intervention backing the Malian armed forces and he said getting involved in this was a "very dangerous thing to do".

Sinn Féin's Aengus Ó Snodaigh said France and the UN Security Council say they are in Mali to stop terrorism but he said it was peace enforcement.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said the mission was taking sides and was breaching everything that neutrality stands for.

Independent TD Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister if Ireland was getting caught up in a bigger situation than peace keeping.

She said: "Are we getting caught up in the residue of a colonial coming from French imperialism and their historic role there."

She said the presence of Irish troops must not facilitate French interests in the area which she said would completely undermine Ireland's reputation when it comes to human rights.

Labour's Brendan Ryan said they would not be supporting the motion to send troops to Mali.

He told the Dáil one of the reasons for the party's opposition was due to France's promise to provide military support to the UN mission if required.

He said Labour was opposed to the mission because the only end game that seemed to be envisaged was one where insurgent groups are defeated.

He said this pulls the UN away from its traditional stance on neutrality into being a strong supporter of one side of the conflict which he said was a "dangerous precedent".

A vote on the motion will take place in the Dáil on Thursday.