Covert surveillance material would be admitted as evidence in criminal trials under the new Criminal Justice Surveillance Bill.

The Bill was published by Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern this morning.

It provides, for the first time, a legal framework to allow covert surveillance material to be used in criminal trials.

The Bill enables gardaí, the Defence Forces and officers of the Revenue Commissioners - customs and CAB offices - to carry out secret electronic surveillance and if necessary break in to plant bugs.

This would enable them to gather information and intelligence on plans, movements, contacts and methods of operation of individuals and criminal gangs.

Safeguards on the authorisation, duration and operation of covert surveillance have been built into the Bill.

The surveillance must be authorised by a judge except 'in limited emergency situations'.

Minister Ahern said that the new legislation would follow the same pattern as the 1998 post Omagh legislation because the Government sees the activities of criminal gangs as a threat to the State.

The legislation will also allow a judge to impose post release conditions on convicted gang members, such as ordering them not to associate with other criminals or gang members.

Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy has said that the new measures were appropriate, proportionate and necessary.

Earlier, on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Cathal O'Neill of Risk Management Ireland said the legislation would help to strengthen the arm of gardaí in tackling crime.

Fine Gael justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan welcomed the publication of the Bill and called for its urgent implementation.

'With a conviction rate of just 11% for the 171 shootings that have taken place in the last 11 years, our evidence gathering mechanisms require an urgent overhaul.

'Covert surveillance legislation is absolutely essential in the fight against organised crime.'

The Minister also announced that new legislation is being drafted to make it an offence to be involved in criminal gang activities.