A new law will break the link between criminal gangs and the vulnerable youngsters they recruit, according to Laois TD Charlie Flanagan.
Deputy Flanagan said the General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Exploitation of Children in the Commission of Offences) Bill creates for the first time, specific offences where an adult compels, coerces, induces or invites a child to engage in criminal activity.
The Fine Gael TD said: “As Minister for Justice & Equality, I was very pleased to draft the early stages of this important legislation.
“While current law already provides that an adult who causes or uses a child to commit a crime can generally be found guilty as the principal offender – meaning they can be punished as though they committed the crime themselves – it does not recognise the harm done to a child by drawing them into a world of criminality.
“This new law is designed to address that harm directly. Those found guilty of the new offences face imprisonment of 12 months on summary conviction and up to five years on indictment.
“The child concerned does not have to have to be successful in carrying out the offence for the law to apply.
“It is also the Government’s intention that the offence of grooming a child into criminal activity will be prosecutable as a completely separate and additional offence to any crime committed by the adult using the child as their innocent agent.
“The new legislation complements the ongoing work following the publication of the ‘Greentown Report’ in December 2016, which examined the influence of criminal networks on children in Ireland.
“The report, which was produced at the School of Law in the University of Limerick, outlines how the influence of criminal networks increases the level of offending by a small number of children and entraps them in offending situations.
“As part of the wider ‘Greentown’ project, targeted interventions are to be piloted to further protect children in Ireland from becoming involved in criminal networks.
“This new Bill will deliver on the Programme for Government commitments to criminalise coercion of children to sell and supply drugs and the grooming of children to commit crimes.”