A new law will break the link between criminal gangs and the vulnerable youngsters they recruit, a Fine Gael TD has said.
Louth TD Fergus O’Dowd said the General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Exploitation of Children in the Commission of Offences) Bill, published today, will for the first time create specific offences where an adult compels, coerces, induces or invites a child to engage in criminal activity.
Deputy O’Dowd said: “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 my Fine Gael colleague Justice Minister Helen McEntee’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.
Deputy O’Dowd continued: “In the coming weeks, Minister McEntee will publish and action the Vivian Guerin report into the challenges and needs experienced by communities in Drogheda as a result of ongoing feud activities by criminal gangs.
“The report is examining a range of issues affecting the community, including the needs of young people in the area, the opportunities available to them and the root causes which lead to criminal activity taking hold.
“I look forward to working with the Minister on the findings of this report. The people of Drogheda are all too familiar with the appalling acts of gangland crime and its devastating effect on local communities.
“Bolstered garda resources and investment in the area are working very effectively to combat this issue, with over €3 million invested in youth diversion programmes alone in the region over the last three years.
“I firmly believe that as well as investing in criminal justice, we must continue to investigate and invest in the social, educational and other inequalities that contribute to leading young people into crime.
“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.
“This Legislation will play a key part in efforts to prevent gangs leading children into a life of crime,” Deputy O’Dowd concluded.