- New offences will lead to up to five years in prison
- Bill will deliver on Programme for Government commitments to criminalise coercion of children to sell and supply drugs and the grooming of children to commit crimes
- Legislation a key part of efforts to prevent gangs leading children into a life of crime
The Minister for Justice Helen McEntee TD and the Minister of State for Law Reform James Browne TD today announced the publication of the General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Exploitation of Children in the Commission of Offences) Bill, which will outlaw the grooming of children into crime.
The Bill will, for the first time, create specific offences where an adult compels, coerces, induces or invites a child to engage in criminal activity.
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 Ministers’ 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.
Minister McEntee said:
“We must tackle crime at all levels and in all areas of our society – from stopping the gang bosses committing the most awful crimes to preventing them leading our young into a life of crime.
“Rooting crime out of our communities means we must show criminals that we are deadly serious about ensuring they cannot exploit our young for their own ends. We are equally serious about ensuring that crime does not pass down through generations.
“Breaking the link between criminal gangs and the vulnerable young people they try to recruit will be essential if we are to divert young people away from lives of crime. This legislation will further seek to protect children from being drawn into a life of criminality, with all the potential lifetime consequences that entails, and to further disrupt the activity of criminals within our communities.”
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 work has been assisted by an international team of experts on crime and criminal networks, together with Irish scientific, policy and practice expertise in child protection and welfare, drugs and community development, strongly supported by key State agencies, particularly An Garda Síochána.
The Minister said:
“The Greentown project’s objectives are to reduce criminal networks’ capability for recruiting children to commit crime and provide an exit route for children who have already been ensnared in criminal activity. This is important work on the protection of children from criminal exploitation and will inform these legislative proposals.
“Greentown is one of a number of youth justice initiatives that will be strengthened and developed in the new Youth Justice Strategy which is being finalised by Minister Browne, and which will be published shortly.”
Minister McEntee will also in the coming weeks 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.
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.
Minister McEntee will also work with Dublin City Council to implement the Jack Nolan report on Darndale, Belcamp and Moatview in North Dublin City.
This report, from former Assistant Garda Commissioner Jack Nolan, outlines a socio-economic and community plan for Darndale and its surrounding areas. It also makes recommendations related to crime prevention and dismantling gangs.
In recent months, Minister McEntee also received Cabinet approval to increase the maximum sentence for conspiracy to murder from ten years to life imprisonment.
Minister of State James Browne added:
“This new Bill directly addresses the commitments in the Programme for Government to legislate against the coercion and use of minors in the sale and supply of drugs and to criminalise adults who groom children to commit crimes. I look forward to the process of pre-legislative scrutiny making an important contribution to ensuring the legislation takes account of all the complexities involved in dealing with the issue of children being drawn into crime to the greatest degree possible.
“The new Youth Justice Strategy will provide the framework within which we will draw on the full range of programmes that we have in the youth justice area to design tailored interventions to meet the needs of specific communities and cohorts of young people at risk.
“The Programme for Government also contains a commitment to convene an expert forum on anti-social behaviour to consider the effectiveness of existing legislation and propose new ways forward, including new powers for An Garda Síochána and additional interventions to support parenting of offenders. I was delighted to convene an initial meeting of the new Forum on Anti-Social Behaviour at the end of October and I look forward to further work in this area throughout 2021.”
The text of the General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Exploitation of Children in the Commission of Offences) Bill can be found on the Department of Justice website www.justice.ie.
NOTES FOR EDITORS:
General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Exploitation of children in the commission of offences) Bill
Main Provisions of the Bill
The General Scheme will now be published on the Department’s website and submitted to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice for pre-legislative scrutiny.
The Department of Justice is working in strategic partnership with the University of Limerick on the Greentown Project.
Greentown is an evidence informed and design-led targeted community intervention which aims to reduce the influence of criminal networks on children. The programme’s objectives are to reduce network capability for recruiting children to commit crime and provide an exit route for children who are already engaged or embedded.
The Greentown Project is informed by a significant evidence base including multiple primary studies, evaluation findings and deliberation with international academics in the area of organised crime and national experts in the areas of youth justice, child welfare, and policing and community development.