New legislation to protect children from sexual abuse online will be debated in the Dáil this week.

Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Geoffrey Shannon has said it is the most significant piece of legislation addressing children and criminal law since the foundation of the State.

While saying he is disappointed it has taken so long, Dr Shannon said he nevertheless welcomes the decision by Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald to bring it before the Dáil this week as a matter of priority.

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 will strengthen the law on online grooming, images of child abuse and child prostitution.

The bill proposes to criminalise any communication with a child on the internet, mobile phone or social media for sexual exploitation through technology.

It also criminalises sending sexually explicit or pornographic material to a child.

Currently images of child abuse must be downloaded to be an offence but the bill will criminalise viewing the images.

The bill also provides protections for child witnesses giving evidence in court.

Speaking at a conference hosted by the Children's Rights Alliance this morning, Ms Fitzgerald said she was tabling some amendments to the bill.

Ms Fitzgerald said there will be an amendment "in relation to counselling notes so children can have security around the disclosure of those notes".

She said new offences have been created in the bill with sentences of between ten and 15 years.

Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children's Rights Alliance, said: "Children are at risk of sexual abuse because the law is outdated. This allows predators to exploit legal loopholes to abuse children as well as take advantage of rapid technological advancements that are not catered for in law."

She said children are spending more and more time online with 86% of nine-year-olds having access to a computer at home and 82% of teenagers with social networking profiles.