Drug dealers could face 10 years in jail for exploiting kids
Tough new laws to crack down on the exploitation of children lured into drug dealing would see those responsible jailed for up to 10 years.
Fianna Fail TD John Curran said the use of children as young as eight by drugs gangs is a "national disgrace" and has put forward legislation seeking to deter the practice.
The Bill, to be debated in the Dail tomorrow, would introduce two new offences.
If passed it will be a criminal offence to buy drugs from someone who is under 18.
The other new offence would be to cause a child to be in possession of drugs for the intent of sale and supply.
Mr Curran said the jail sentences of up to 10 years will be a more serious penalty than for existing offences.
He pointed to data showing that 99 criminals out of 141 convicted last year for serious drugs possession received a sentence of five years or less.
Mr Curran said just one offender was sentenced to 10 years or more.
He said the use of children to deliver and sell drugs has "become quite common". This is happening because the gangs believe the consequences for the child if they're caught would be far less than if it were an adult.
Mr Curran referred to research in west Dublin which found that children as young as 10 are dealing and others as young as eight are being used as runners for gangs.
The study was carried out by the Blanchardstown Local Drug and Alcohol Task Force.
Mr Curran highlighted the age of the children involved, saying: "We are calling on every TD to think about that for a minute, to put politics to one side and to get behind this important legislation.
"For some of the children it might be a lifestyle that appears at first to be glamorous. Others were coerced into it because of family debt and intimidation.
"But across the board those children are being absolutely exploited.
"This legislation isn't going to solve the drugs problem. It's going to protect young children."
Last night the Cabinet decided not to oppose the Fianna Fail Bill. Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said the intention behind the law had merit but he added that there were "significant legal, policy and operational issues" with it at present.
He asked his officials to work with Mr Curran to help address these issues.