'We'll block drug gangs luring kids' - Flanagan
Laws to tackle criminals who lure children into the drugs trade are now being examined, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has said.
The use of children to carry, conceal and distribute drugs is becoming more prevalent among criminal networks who know prosecuting 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, Mr 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 at 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," the minister added.
He intends to examine the possibility of introducing a specific offence of grooming children through inducements such as providing 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 a programme to focus on interventions with children and their families to help them withstand the influence of criminal networks," Mr Flanagan said.
"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, and I am pleased a pilot of this approach will commence later this year."
The new health-led approach to having drugs for personal use was not a decriminalisation of drugs and not about normalising illegal drug-taking, he said.
The new plan involves a health-diversion programme where a person caught in possession of an amount of drugs deemed to be for personal use will be referred to the HSE for screening and intervention.
If the person is caught a second time, gardai will issue an adult caution.
Only on the third occasion a 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.