Protecting our children is a priority for any country. It is tragically clear that criminal gangs now represent a very real threat to perhaps hundreds of children across the country.
Crime gangs are recruiting children and ordering them to move and sell drugs. Involvement in criminality can spiral when a young person is in the clutches of these crime bosses. Very serious threats and blackmail in relation to minor debts are often the way that criminals force children to do their evil bidding.
We need to do all in our power to protect children and make it impossible for crime gangs to operate. Labour is currently working on legislative proposals that would make the recruitment, direction or coercion of a minor by a crime gang a criminal offence.
We have introduced similar measures to make the grooming of children for the purposes of sexual exploitation a specific offence – penalised by up to 14 years in prison. Criminal gangs are also effectively grooming children and they need to face the same jail sentences for these despicable actions.
We need to ensure our legal system can respond to the gangland threat. This proposal to protect our young people is an important development in that regard. However, these vicious crime gangs will not be crushed by a law and order response alone. We need to invest in communities and supports for young people, particularly vulnerable young people. Providing communities and youth services with the resources they need must go hand in hand with criminal and legal initiatives to crush the gangs.
You can watch my interaction with An Taoiseach about the damage being done to families and whole communities as a result of drug gangs targeting young children.