I am concerned about the issue of gangland criminals potentially seeking to exploit the progressive piece of legislation whereby the criminal age has been increased to 12 under the Children Act 2001. Both media and personal reports would indicate that children younger and younger are becomming involved in the gangland criminal culture under the direction of their seniors. This is something that must not be allowed develop 

I have asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the measures he will introduce to prevent the increased use of juveniles by criminal gangs in the transport of illegal substances such as drugs and aprovide his reply.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that to date all significant arrests by the Garda National Drugs Unit in 2008 have involved adults.

There is no evidence, currently to hand, to indicate that there is an increase in the use of juveniles by criminals for the purpose of drug-trafficking.

However there is no room for complacency on matters such as this and An Garda Síochána will continue to monitor any developments which indicate any such manipulation of young people for criminal purposes.

Regardless of age, it is already an offence to incite another to commit a crime. The crime of incitement stands alone and does not depend on whether a substantive offence was committed. It is punishable by imprisonment and/or a fine with the duration and amount at the discretion of the court. Furthermore, the Criminal Law Act 1997 provides that any person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the commission of an indictable offence is liable to be tried as the principal offender.

My colleague the Minister for Children recently launched the National Youth Justice Strategy for 2008-2010. It is based on the principles of the Children Act 2001, as amended, and the Government’s decision to reform the youth justice area.

The purpose of this Strategy is to develop a co-ordinated approach among agencies working in the youth justice system over the next three years. The Strategy acknowledges that the youth justice system is but one component in a broader community based approach for preventing youth offending that takes account of the wider family and social issues which need to be addressed by a number of agencies.

In relation to any circumstances where a person, including a juvenile, is caught in possession of a controlled substance they may be arrested and processed for any relevant offences disclosed. The offences applicable would be possession of a controlled drug per section 3 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977/84 or possession for sale and or supply per section 15 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977/84.

During any investigation of any such disclosed offence, if evidence comes to light of a juvenile being used by any other person for the purposes of transporting a controlled substance, then that person may be treated as a principal offender and prosecuted accordingly.

Provision is also made in law for a juvenile, following the proper investigation of any alleged offences, to be processed under the Juvenile Diversion Programme.

The Juvenile Diversion Programme deals with juveniles who offend, by way of administering a formal or an informal caution, thus diverting the offender away from the Courts and minimising the likelihood of further offending.

Furthermore there are currently 100 Garda Youth Diversion Projects operating throughout the state with a mandate to divert young people from becoming involved or further involved in anti social and/or criminal behaviour by providing suitable activities to facilitate personal development and promote civic responsibility.

I feel that this is an issue that we need to keep a close watch on.