Justice minister Dermot Ahern

GardaÍ have identified 300 gangland figures they intend to pursue under new legislation that will see serious criminals face non-jury trials in the Special Criminal Court.

Criminal profilers in each garda division have compiled dossiers on serious criminals they believe should face charges of controlling a criminal gang or membership of a crime gang.

In anticipation of the legislation, criminal profilers have increased their workload in recent months and prepared detailed reports on the gangland figures who will be targeted.

While the most serious crime gangs are based in Dublin and Limerick, it is understood smaller gangs will also be targeted.

"As well as going after the obvious gangs in Limerick and the serious players in Dublin, we're looking at some of the smaller gangs in rural Ireland," said a senior garda source. "Anyone who is involved in serious gang activity is being looked at. Members of the Travelling community involved in gang activity and some gangs carrying out cash-in-transit robberies around the country will be targeted," said the source.

"In anticipation of this legislation, each garda division has drawn up detailed intelligence of the active gangs in each division."

Some arrests will take place in the coming weeks after the legislation is enacted but other cases will take several months as officers want to ensure they have enough evidence against serious criminals to ensure convictions.

A major Finglas drug dealer responsible for several murders and considered the country's most dangerous criminal is a top priority.

"We are not going to rush this. A lot of the groundwork has been done but we have to ensure we have sufficient evidence to convict these individuals," said the source.

Under the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill, set to be law within a fortnight, the director of public prosecutions (DPP) will get one-year, renewable powers to send gangland trials to the non-jury court in a bid to reduce intimidation.

Conviction for gang membership can result in a 15-year jail sentence while conviction for directing a gang can result in life imprisonment. New bugging powers under the Criminal Justice Surveillance Bill will allow evidence gathered via new covert bugging operations. That along with the sworn testimony of senior garda officers will strengthen garda powers to secure prosecutions at the Special
Criminal Court.

Justice minister Dermot Ahern told the Dáil on Friday that gangland criminals were increasingly undermining the legal system and must face no-jury trials before the Special Criminal Court to stop the intimidation of jurors. But the Law Society described as "wrong and dangerous" the speed with which the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill was going through the Dáil.

A separate garda source said there was a possibility that some serious criminals may consider moving abroad to avoid the stringent new legislative powers which have the ability to curtail their activities. "There's been talk of a mass exodus but it's too early to tell. I'm sure some will leave, some already have in Limerick," said the garda.