Diverting young people away from getting involved in criminal activity is a key priority for the Government and the exploitation of young people and children is a particular concern.
As the Deputy will be aware, the Programme for Government includes a commitment to criminalise adults who groom children to commit crimes. To this end, on 15 January 2021, Minister of State James Browne and I announced the publication of the General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Exploitation of Children in the Commission of Offences) Bill.
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 be successful in carrying out the offence for the law to apply.
It is also the 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. Details will be finalised throughout the legislative process.
The new legislation will complement 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. As well as analysing how criminal networks recruit and control often vulnerable children, the Greentown project has attempted to identify the scale of the problem in the State and has designed a bespoke form of intervention, which is being trialled on a pilot basis in two locations.
This specially designed intervention programme was developed with international expert advice, to tackle coercive control of children by criminal groups which entraps them in offending situations.
I will also shortly publish the Vivian Geiran report into the challenges and needs experienced by communities in Drogheda as a result of ongoing feuding activities by criminal gangs, which has been received from Mr Geiran and is under consideration within my Department.
The report examines 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.
Further to this, Minister of State Browne and I will also be bringing the new Youth Justice Strategy to Government shortly, which will deliver a holistic approach to the issue of youth justice.