The Minister for Justice says the garda investigation into the circulation of a pornographic picture of a schoolgirl is an extremely serious issue.

Michael McDowell said officials from his Department are to raise the matter with members of the Internet advisory board next week. He declined to discuss the details of the case.

Earlier today, a garda investigation was launched after a pornographic picture of a schoolgirl, sent via camera phones, was circulated among hundreds of people in Cork, Limerick and Kerry.

The picture depicts a teenage girl dressed in a school uniform jumper in a sexually explicit position. The jumper appears to bear a school crest.

Gardaí began an investigation under the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act because the girl is a minor. They have warned that anybody found in possession of the image or distributing it could be prosecuted and jailed.

The investigation began when a complaint was made to gardaí in the Cork suburb of Glanmire that a local teenage girl was the person featured in the pornographic image.

Gardaí spoke to the teenager and to her parents and are satisfied that the girl was not the person in the image. They are continuing to investigate reports that the image originated in Cork and are attempting to identify the girl from the crest on the school uniform.

They believe people who receive or send the picture are unaware that they are committing a serious criminal offence which carries a sentence of up to 14 years in jail.

The Copine research project, which is based at University College Cork and investigates the exchange of information among paedophiles, and the British children's charity, NCH, have both expressed concern about the use of camera phones in the spread of Internet child pornography.