Feuding drug gangs recruiting 'child soldiers'
Capital's inner-city youths face bleak prospects and are now being sucked into lives of crime
The vicious gang feuding in Dublin is dragging yet another generation of teenagers and even pre-teens into the drugs trade, local people say.
Around 35,000 youths, aged between 12 and 17, are understood to be logged on the Garda's criminal data base, Pulse, for either having convictions or against whom charges have been brought.
The overall population aged between 12 and 17 is just under 400,000. There appears to be some disparity in the figures from differing agencies, but the Irish Youth Justice Service (IYJS) - set up in 2001 to comply with EU rules on 'child' (ie those aged under 18) crime - estimates that 9pc of the country's youth population are the subject of criminal charges.
The available figures do not break down geographical locations but gardai and others say there is a preponderance of charges against youths in what are termed "socially deprived urban areas".
Local people in the north and south inner city say the consequence of having so many young people with criminal records is that their prospects for a life outside crime are drastically reduced and many see no other way than to join the gangs.
The lack of alternative paths away from crime is, these sources say, becoming critical. The indigenous working-class north-inner-city population has not benefitted from the development and expansion of the IFSC or from the parallel expansion of office developments on the southside of the river. While thousands of apartments have been built, the promises dating from the 1990s to have a 20pc social-housing inclusion factored into the developments have not been kept.
The average age for entry into the drugs trade in the north and south inner city is around 12 or 13. Local sources say, at this age, the youths are expected to carry out minor tasks such as collecting and transporting drugs or cash. From 14 upwards, they say, youths are being inducted into full-time dealing, generating profits through increased sales for their immediate bosses, mainly based in the Kinahan strongholds in the south of the city.
One source said that by their mid-teens, local youths can expect to be subject to the harsh system of punishment for those who lose money, either through theft or bad management. The standard punishment for a 14 or 15-year-old who has fallen behind on payments is to be beaten and stabbed - "marked" as it is termed in the area.
One man (none of those who spoke to the Sunday Independent wanted to be named due to the pervasive fears in the areas) said: "By 14 and 15, they are mainstream and if they fall behind with the money, some guy comes down from Crumlin and stabs them, marks them and that's an accepted way of life for these kids.
"They know the consequences, but once they're at that age, they're caught. They can't turn to the guards because they feel the guards hate them. There are some good guards, but a lot of the younger ones are rough on the kids, stopping them all the time. Some of them treat young lads like dirt."
Another source, involved in education in the inner city, said that since the latest feuding broke out, there has been an increase in youths affiliating with gangs. She described the feud as being a "recruiting ground for the next generation of gang members".
She said that one of the main problems in the north inner city is that an unknown number of local dealers are supplied by the Kinahan mob south of the Liffey and that they are being put under pressure to supply information on members of the rival Hutch gang, setting them up for assassination. This is adding to the sense of fear and uncertainty that is driving young people to opt into one side or the other.
It is also said that this is causing a situation where the drugs trade middle-management, still resident in the north and south inner city, are frightened of being murdered by local addict-dealers who are faced with the alternative of committing murder or being murdered.
This source also predicted that what is happening now with youths in their early teens is that they are growing up faster into the world of drugs and gun crime. It is regarded as only a short distance from them seeing that the best way ahead is to "take out" the next level up of young bosses who have subjected them to punishment beatings and stabbings.
Another source in the north inner city said that public money, being allocated for "social" spending in the north inner city, is not helping in any way to prevent young people being drawn into crime. This source said over the years, money has been siphoned off into self-interested groups and was seen locally as "a carve-up, jobs for the boys". The belief is taking hold locally, he said, that the overall intention is to drive the remaining law-abiding people, who are striving to bring up families, out of the area.
Over the past eight years, the number of gardai in the North Central Division has been reduced from 714 to 596.