There has been an 85% drop in the number of behaviour warnings issued to children by gardaí in the last 10 years.

Figures released by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan show that while 505 warnings were issued to children in 2008, the total fell to just 71 last year and so far this year it stands at just 10.

For adults, the number of warnings has significantly increased, with 428 issued in 2008 compared to 937 last year, though the figure so far this year is just 86.

Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall said that, despite the growing issue of youth crime, the powers granted to the gardaí to tackle the problem were not being used.

“When a child or young person is getting involved in persistent antisocial behaviour, early intervention is vital to stop them being drawn in to more serious crime,” said Ms Shortall. “That is why gardaí were granted the power to issue official behaviour warnings to children and their parents, to make them aware that more serious steps may be taken if the behaviour continues.

However, the figures show that the number of these warnings has plummeted.

“In 2008, 505 warnings were issued; by 2012 it had halved to 240; and by the end of last year there were just 71 warnings issued nationally. That’s a drop of 85% over the course of 10 years.”

Ms Shortall said the measures should never be about criminalising children but added that they can play an important role in removing them from environments and behaviours that lead down a “dangerous path”.

“In recent years, community workers have been reporting a significant increase in the number of minors becoming involved in drug dealing because of the perception that they’re untouchable under the law,” she said. “These warnings were introduced to nip this sort of behaviour in the bud. Yet, according to the provisional numbers for this year, just 10 warnings have been issued.

There is clearly something wrong with the system. We need to know why the gardaí are not using the powers available to them and what, if anything, they are doing as an alternative.

Mr Flanagan, in a response to a question from Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan on the same topic in recent days, said that, in setting up the antisocial behaviour order (ASBO) regime in 2007, the interventions —warnings, good behaviour contracts, and referrals to the Juvenile Diversion Programme — were intended to address problem behaviour.

“It was only if they failed to lead to a behaviour adjustment by the person in question that a court order would then be applied for,” he said.

“It is widely acknowledged the use of ASBOs is only suitable in certain circumstances and indeed it is only one crime prevention option open to An Garda Síochána in tackling this type of crime.

“An Garda Síochána already employs a wide range of operational measures aimed at tackling public order offences and antisocial behaviour.”

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