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'Seen as criminals first, children second': 1,000 children in Ireland involved with criminal networks

A new initiative will be piloted at two locations to intervene in situations where children are being drawn into criminality by adults.

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NEW RESEARCH HAS suggested that around 1,000 children across the country are involved with a criminal networks.

The Greentown project was undertaken by the University of Limerick over a period of five years, in partnership with the Department of Justice and the Department of Children.

Speaking at the launch today, Dr Sean Redmond, principal investigator for the Greentown project, said researchers built a picture of the various ways children get drawn in, with many brought into the criminal world through friendships or after being groomed by mid-ranking young adults in their areas who are governed by people “higher up in the pecking order”.

Criminal gangs, he said, “suck children in with promises of bling and a party lifestyle and retain them through debts, obligations and fear”.

He said in some instances the child’s family is the criminal network and this makes those relationships “strong and more resilient to interference” by support services.

Dr Redmond said young people who become involved in criminal activity are can be “seen as a criminal first and a child second”, with no protection from their communities.

The project looked at three real but anonymised locations in Ireland, called Greentown, Bluetown and Redtown.

Greentown and Redtown are both provincial towns while the Bluetown report focuses on an examination of criminal networks in one Dublin location.

In Redtown, network involvement was associated with the types of crime being committed, Redmond said.

“Burglary involved severely disadvantaged families where there was a high degree of chaos and evidence of passing on pro-criminal norms and coaching for children in committing crime.

Redtown was also notable for the influence that one network member, actually a 16-year-old boy, could make in a tight group of siblings and peers, and also some young people were involved in retail-end drugs sale and supply, where there was evidence of adults involved in hierarchical relationships that were not shown on the network because they have not been detected.

Redmond said these children “are clearly being exploited by adults” and they appear to commit a significantly disproportionate amount of youth-related crime.

Intervention

Launching the research today, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee announced a newly designed community intervention programme that will be based on the findings.

This programme is being implemented on a pilot basis in two locations and will involve network disruption, taking back control of public spaces, improving opportunities for young people and intensive case-work with families. 

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Minister McEntee said the cycle of criminality must be broken as early as possible and the project “gives us the tools we need to stop criminal gangs persuading young people to join their networks”.

“The fact that an estimated 1,000 children across the State are engaged with criminal networks illustrates the work we have to do. Our plans to outlaw the grooming of children into crime is a clear signal that we are serious about stopping the gangs from leading our young into a life of crime,” she said.

The minister acknowledged that interventions will be more difficult in situations where a child’s family is “part of the problem in that they are part of the criminal network”. 

She said the programme will involve other State agencies such as Tusla as well as the educational process and gardaí, to find a way to intervene. 

“It is obviously much more difficult when you have family members involved but I don’t think it’s good enough to say that because it’s part of a family network that we simply can’t do anything. It’s about using every tool in the box here.”

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