GARDAI are to investigate three suspected Irish paedophiles identified in a major international sting operation.
The men – two of whom are believed to be parents themselves – were caught attempting to pay a young girl to perform sexual acts in front of a web camera.
They are among more than 1,000 suspected predators in 65 countries listed in a dossier given to Interpol by a Dutch children's rights charity.
The charity, Terre des Hommes, conducted a sophisticated sting operation where suspected paedophiles were tricked into believing they were engaged in online conversations with a 10-year-old girl from the Philippines called Sweetie.
All of the computer users offered to pay the girl to perform sexual acts in front of a webcam.
However, they were in fact conversing with a team of researchers.
A sophisticated computer programme, which generated lifelike video images of a virtual girl, was used to convince the suspected paedophiles they were dealing with a minor.
The researchers were able to gather details during the online conversations to establish the identities of many of those they were dealing with.
Three of those identified were living in Ireland and were identified after sharing personal information.
"A couple of the Irish guys had children of their own," a researcher involved in the project told the Irish Independent.
"That was one of the most terrifying things we saw."
A garda spokesman said the force now expected information on the Irish suspects to be passed to the Garda
Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Unit at Harcourt Square in Dublin, which deals with the sexual abuse of minors.
"This sort of information will be treated extremely seriously and we will carry out our own investigations once the information is received from Interpol."
The dossier not only includes the names of suspected paedophiles but also footage of them taken via their own webcams.
Terre des Hommes director of projects, Hans Guyt, said the practice of what he called "webcam child sex tourism" was a largely unknown, but quickly spreading new form of child exploitation that had got tens of thousands of victims involved in the Philippines alone.
"Rising internet usage and persistent poverty in the developing world have fostered the emergence of a rapidly growing new form of online child exploitation," he said.
"If we don't intervene soon, this sinister phenomenon will totally run out of control."
An analysis by the charity found that only six people had ever been convicted worldwide of soliciting a child to perform sexual acts via a webcam. Mr Guyt said the investigation of the crime required "a novel approach" as the victims rarely, if ever, came forward.
Four researchers with the charity conducted the sting operation over the course of two months earlier this year. They posed as a 10-year-old Filipino girl in internet chat rooms. Without offering any sexual services, the researchers were "swamped, like an avalanche" with requests to perform sexual acts on camera.
"They were absolutely overwhelmed by a constant demand from predators for sex shows via webcams," said Mr Guyt.
"But while they thought they were chatting with a Filipino girl, they were being traced."
The researchers used details provided by the suspected paedophiles during conversations online to identify them via Google, Facebook, Skype and other sources.
They were able to compile a list of suspects, complete with full names, phone numbers and addresses for the dossier.
Mr Guyt insisted that the charity's sting operation did not amount to entrapment as Sweetie never at any point offered any sexual services.
He said the conversations captured by the researchers showed that the suspected paedophiles were at all times aware they were dealing with an underage girl.
All of the sexual conversation was instigated by the suspected paedophiles and not the researchers.
"We have been very careful not to fall into that trap. We identified ourselves time and time again as a 10-year-old," he said. "We did not solicit anyone."
He added: "Never did we accept payments or hack computers. All of the information was offered by the person themselves."
The sting operation could lead to the most high-profile crackdown since Operation Amethyst in 2002, the last large- scale inquiry into the use of child pornography in Ireland.
That operation targeted 130 individuals and led to a number of convictions, including that of celebrity chef Tim Allen.
Garda sources said that even if the information gathered by Terre des Hommes did not lead directly to convictions, it would spark fresh investigations into the men identified here.
Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor