Public health officials have given the green light to testing sewage water for traces of Covid-19 to check if the virus is spreading in a community.
The plan was endorsed at a meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).
It means waste water will be analysed for coronavirus genetic material in the hope that sewage samples would indicate infection among people diagnosed with Covid-19 and those who have it but are without symptoms.
Dr Cillian de Gascun of the National Virus Reference Laboratory presented a report on the plan which, is particularly useful when cases are low because it allows an area to be the focus of testing to prevent the spread growing.
He said it would provide an early warning system to identify when the virus was increasing in the community.
It was proposed that the HSE and the Health Protection Surveillance Centre would implement a robust national wastewater surveillance network for the virus.
Research has shown minuscule fragments of the virus are shed by infected people in their faeces and urine.
In the UK, sewage from individual schools, universities, prisons and offices could be monitored to detect coronavirus outbreaks early.
In a paper released this week, experts from universities across the UK reported on pilot projects where waste water was shown to be an accurate indicator of infections in an area.
Traces of coronavirus are passed from people's bodies and can be picked up using genetic testing.
"Beyond identifying community-scale hot spots, waste water monitoring can be successfully applied at building scale for the management of outbreaks in discreet pop- ulations," the report says.
"Learning from our work in the small city, upstream pilot and in schools, we are investigating the potential to use building-scale monitoring to prioritise the distribution of mass testing, for example in prisons and critical points in the food supply chain."
The technique may also be used to track how successful the Covid-19 vaccination has been in protecting the population.
Separate work carried out by the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control identified coronavirus material in London sewage in February before cases were diagnosed there.