THE number of juveniles caught dealing drugs has jumped by 50%, according to Garda figures.
The data shows the number of juveniles caught in possession of drugs for their own personal use also rose by 33%.
The increased involvement of minors in the drugs trade comes at a time when the total number of juvenile crimes dropped in 2008, from a height in 2007.
Figures published by the Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme show there were:
* 209 cases of selling/supplying drugs in 2008, compared with 138 in 2007 and 142 in 2007.
* 1,290 cases of possessing drugs in 2008, compared with 972 in 2007 and 995 in 2006.
The figures follow concerns expressed last month by a senior garda in north Dublin, who said children were being used to hold and courier drugs and guns for gangs.
Inspector Finbarr Murphy of the Garda Diversion Programme said the rise in 2008 was in part due to dedicated drug operations.
“That comes from a number of targeted operations, aimed at street sellers, during the year. There were young lads doing that,” said Insp Murphy.
The Diversion Programme is referred all crimes involving a juvenile: those aged under 18 and over the age of 10.
Insp Murphy said they assessed each referral — including for drug dealing — individually.
“We have a look at each case, depending on whether there was previous involvement, the severity of the case, depending on the report we get in, for example are they part of a criminal gang.”
He said the juveniles are caught with “quite substantial amounts” on occasions.
Insp Murphy said sometimes they make a decision not to include the juvenile in the programme and recommend they be prosecuted in the courts.
“Sometimes, we say ‘No’, it’s important to let the courts deal with them,” he said.
Last month, Chief Superintendent Gerry Phillips, in charge of the Dublin Northern Division, said juveniles as young as 14 were holding drugs and guns for gang bosses.
He said sometimes these children were very junior members of a gang and agreed to hold drugs or guns to “ingratiate themselves with gang leaders”.
Insp Murphy said the involvement of some juveniles in serious crime only applied to a very small minority.
“The vast majority of young people are really good kids. There’s a certain demonisation fuelled by councillors and media,” he said.
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