Laws to tackle criminals who lure children into the drugs trade are now being examined, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has said.
he use of children to carry, conceal and distribute drugs is becoming more prevalent among criminal networks who know that prosecution of a child is a difficult process.
Criminal gangs encouraging children to take drugs, leading to early dependency, is also a growing difficulty in communities around Ireland.
Speaking at the launch of a new health-led drugs policy, Minister Flanagan said:
“I have asked my officials to develop proposals to tackle those who seek to lure children into the drug trade. My Department has been supporting a major initiative led by Professor Sean Redmond and the Research Evidence into Policy, Programmes and Practice in the University of Limerick. The specific focus of this project is to examine the recruitment by criminal networks of children in Ireland, and to make recommendations for evidence based interventions to disrupt this,” Minister Flanagan explained.
He intends to examine the possibility of introducing a specific offence of grooming children, through inducements such as the provision of drugs or by other means, for the commission of drug related crime, with a view to combating any potential exploitation of children.
“The ‘Greentown’ report recommended the design of a programme to focus on interventions with children and their families to help them withstand the influence of criminal networks.
“This programme has now been designed with the input of leading international expertise on crime and criminal networks, together with Irish scientific, policy and practice expertise in child protection and welfare, drugs and community development and I am pleased that a pilot of this approach will commence later this year,” he said.
The Minister was launching a new health-led approach to the possession of drugs for personal use, and said the new initiative is not a decriminilisation of drugs, and not about normalising illegal drug taking or making life easier for drug dealers.
“What this initiative is about is giving people who use drugs the opportunity to change their lives with the support and care of the health services,” he explained.
The new plan will see a health diversion programme established whereby a person caught by gardaí in possession of an amount of drugs deemed to be for personal use will be referred to the HSE for screening and intervention.
If that person is caught a second time, gardaí will issue the person with an adult caution.
Only on the third occasion this person is caught with drugs for personal use will the criminal justice system be applied and the matter dealt with by the courts.
The measures are aimed at breaking the cycle of drug addiction, with Health Minister Simon Harris having spoken about a policy of "the helping hand rather than the handcuff".
And Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan was anxious to stress that the new plan did not mean the Government or gardai were going soft on drug crime.
“I will continue to focus relentlessly on the gangland criminals who import drugs into this State, peddle them on our streets, and seek to lure people into addiction and dependency,” he said.
“We have strong criminal law sanctions for drug dealing and CAB is busier than ever removing the assets of those who seek to profit from crime,” he added.