Gardaí have issued a stark warning to paedophiles saying that their sexual interest in children will be exposed following a series of raids across 12 counties.
Detectives seized computers and phones containing “tens of thousands” of images of child abuse following raids at 31 locations.
The seizures occurred over the past four days under Operation Ketch. Nobody has been prosecuted yet.
But gardaí insist that arrests are expected over the coming days and weeks.
Gardaí could not confirm as yet whether the children who are in the images were resident in Ireland.
Announcing details of the operation yesterday, Detective Superintendent Declan Daly, of the Garda National Protection Services Bureau, said that the raids “should serve as a stark warning to those who possess and distribute such imagery”.
Addressing paedophiles, he said: “Your homes will be searched, your sexual interests in children will be exposed and will ultimately result in a possible prosecution or conviction.”
Det Supt Daly said that the evidence-gathering phase of the operation has now been completed.
“The task of conducting individual investigations involving the examination of media seized and the arrests of the subjects begins now.
“Additionally, the operation should provide a level of assurance to the public of the critical importance placed on child protection by An Garda Síochána,” he said.
Det Supt Daly said that those typically involved in viewing and distributing child abuse images were male, professionals, aged between 25 and 50 and with medium to advanced IT skills.
He added that the common perception of a culprit operating out of a basement, or in a dark room, was often not the case.
A key priority of Operation Ketch is to try to establish whether any of the children who are featured in the indecent images which have been seized remain in danger.
The operation was led by the Online Child Exploitation Unit (ONCE) and the Garda National Protection Services Bureau.
The searches began last Friday and continued yesterday in homes across Dublin, Wicklow, Kildare, Limerick, Kerry and Waterford.
Gardaí have gotten help from the FBI and the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children in the US, as well as from the National Child Exploitation Co-ordination Centre in Canada, in targeting suspects.
Detective Superintendent Michael Daly said that efforts were under way to maximise a successful outcome in any future prosecutions.
He said that members of the force were re-assigned to a new beat last year – and are now targeting paedophiles who engage in online activity.
“There are members of An Garda Síochána who were walking the beat in Dublin at the beginning of last year who are now on a new beat.
“They are patrolling the internet,” he said.
When asked about the activities of vigilante groups that target paedophiles online, Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll said that these groups had the capacity to hinder Garda operations.
“For anyone else to go about to try to enforce the law, it is fraught with danger.
“There is a danger that people who might otherwise be convicted of offences may not end up in such a scenario and may go free because of the way in which the information has been handled,” he said.