Laws tackling criminals who use youngsters to hold or deal drugs have been proposed after it emerged eight-year-olds are being used as runners in west Dublin.
Fianna Fail drug policy spokesman John Curran, TD for Dublin Mid-West, has prepared draft legislation to tackle the use of children in the distribution of drugs.
The new Bill would see the introduction of two new criminal offences. It would become a criminal offence to purchase drugs from a person under the age of 18 or to cause a child to be in possession of drugs for the intent of sale and supply.
"At the beginning of the year, Blanchardstown Local Drug and Alcohol Task Force published research that many already knew to be the case: children as young as eight were working as drug runners, and 10-year-olds were dealing drugs," said Mr Curran.
"The use of minors in drug distribution networks is appealing to older dealers because, due to their age, there are fewer criminal consequences if they are caught.
"This Bill seeks to change that and in doing so, make it less attractive for those higher up the distribution chain to use young people in this manner."
The Bill has been submitted to the Bills Office and it is hoped Mr Curran will be able to introduce it in the Dail in the coming weeks.
"I hope that the combined effect of these two new offences will be to protect young people against getting involved in the drug economy," added Mr Curran.
The Blanchardstown Local Drug and Alcohol Task Force report, which examines drug use and trends in Dublin 15, showed there was an increase in access to drugs and alcohol, and the normalisation of drugs and alcohol were found to be factors contributing to their use.
The study started in 2015 and found that the main method of obtaining drugs was from local dealers.
In 2016, research found there was an increase in the number of under-18s dealing drugs.
Last year the average age of an under-18 drug runner was 13 and the youngest was just eight. The average age of an under-18 drug dealer was 14 and the youngest was 10.
In March, Finglas Fianna Fail councillor Keith Connolly told his party's Ard Fheis that local children were being paid fast food takeaways to transport drugs for organised criminals.
He said young people were getting small rewards to act as runners for drug dealers, but risking being lured into a life of organised crime as a result.
In April, the Herald reported how the next generation of criminals linked to the Kinahan cartel were using primary schoolchildren aged as young as 10 to deal deadly drugs for them.
Senior sources say that gardai in the capital's south inner city have established that more than half a dozen male children between 10 and 12 are dealing crack cocaine, heroin and other substances for the ruthless mob, whose leaders are in their early 20s and late teens.
"This is a situation that has escalated in recent months," a senior source said.
The children are using laneways and flat complexes in the Thomas Street, Meath Street, Cork Street and Christchurch areas of the capital.