Gardai have launched a new smartphone app that alerts users when a child has been abducted.

As the country’s first ever Missing Persons Day got under way, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan said the app would provide the public with vital information to help track down a missing child.

“Over 50% of the public in Ireland own a smartphone and as a result the potential for quickly reaching vast numbers of the population with critical information is enormous,” Mr Callinan said.

A picture of the missing child, their nationality, their date of birth, hair colour, height, weight and any other important details will be sent to phones, and anyone with information on the child’s whereabouts will be encouraged to contact gardai.

Parents who have the app installed will also be able to pre-load their own child’s details into their phone so that should the child disappear, they have a picture and their vital statistics saved to give to officers.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter, who co-launched the app and Missing Persons Day, said it would be a “crucial component” in the area of child protection and child welfare.

“It’s the fear of every parent that if a child goes missing, they are going to be faced with something dreadful,” Mr Shatter said.

The Child Rescue Ireland (CRI) alert was triggered last week when three youngsters went missing with their mother from their home in Co Roscommon.

Gardaí raised the alert in the early hours of the morning and spread descriptions of the children, their mother and other information among the media, to raise the alert among the public.

The children were found around five hours after the alert was triggered.

The CRI alert was first launched in 2012 and has been triggered twice since then.

Gardaí have to ensure strict criteria are met before the alert is raised, which includes that the child is under 18, that there is a reasonable belief that the child has been abducted, that there is a belief that there is an immediate and serious risk to their health or welfare, and that there is sufficient information available to enable the public to assist gardaí in the search.

These criteria will still be applied with the new phone app that has been launched.

Meanwhile, family members of people who have gone missing over the years attended the launch of the inaugural Missing Persons Day, which will be held annually as a commemoration.

Around 165 reports of missing people are made to gardai every week and around 8,000 incidents are recorded a year.

“It is a terrible experience for any family to have a loved one who is missing,” an emotional Mr Shatter said.

“I know hope that a missing person will be found or reappear alive and well is never fully lost until definite facts emerge to extinguish that hope.

“The continuing uncertainty can for those affected be compounded by an inability to address fully the consequences of a person disappearing.”

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