Senior gardaí have welcomed the introduction of a new law that will see sentences of up to five years imposed on criminals who groom children to do their dirty work for them.
"This has been a problem for many, many years and it is as severe an issue now as it ever has been, so the new law is definitely a step in the right direction," a source said.
Justice Minister Helen McEntee said the new legislation was designed to break the link between organised crime and vulnerable young people and to stop criminal gangs leading children into a life of crime.
Gardaí need special permission from the DPP to charge a child aged 14 or under.
However, most cases involving a teenager under 16 are dealt with by youth diversion programmes rather than the courts.
This makes vulnerable children from mostly disadvantaged areas prime targets for gang bosses who use the children for multiple crimes including moving illegal drugs, arson attacks, intimidation and acting as lookouts.
Gardaí have obtained evidence that burglary gangs have been using children as young as seven to break in to houses for them.
One gang was suspected of using around 16 children under the age of 12 to carry out burglaries across the country as well as recruiting dozens of older juveniles.
Gardaí and other agencies are investigating the activities of a midlands-based woman who is suspected of grooming dozens of children to carry out shoplifting and robbery offences across the country.
Grooming was commonly used by Limerick's criminal outfits during the city's out-of-control gang feud that only ended when all its main protagonists were locked up or murdered.
It is a huge problem in the capital, and a 2019 investigation into crime networks in south central Dublin provided an insight into how young children are lured into gangs.
The report, Building Community Resilience, identified around 650 people involved in the crime network in the area, with some as young as 12.
Gardaí in the capital's south inner city have established that more than half-a-dozen boys aged between 10 and 12 are dealing crack cocaine, heroin and other substances for a sub-cell of the Kinahan cartel.
Detectives believe the children are terrified of the violent young criminals who have links to the cartel.
They risk severe beatings or worse if they do not comply with orders.
The drugs are being sourced by gangsters based in Kevin Street, Crumlin and the Bride Street area.
Another area of concern to gardaí is the Basin Street flats complex, where juvenile drug dealers have been operating openly for associates of jailed gangland killer Brian Rattigan.
In September 2018, a Dublin GAA club warned of a crack cocaine epidemic developing in its area, with criminal gangs grooming children as young as 13 to push drugs.
A year ago this week, the country was shocked when a 17-year-old boy was murdered in Drogheda and his body dismembered.
Gardaí said he had been the victim of grooming.
The teen had been displaying the trappings of wealth associated with gang culture, particularly designer clothes, even though he had no legitimate source of income.
The Justice Minister intends that grooming a child for criminal activity will be prosecutable as a separate offence to any crime committed by an adult using a child as an agent.
"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," she said
"Rooting crime out of our communities means we must show criminals we are deadly serious.
"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."