Fianna Fáil have launched a new bill, called ‘Fagin’s Law’, which mirrors rules in Australia, to fill a major gap in Irish legislation.
Children’s spokesperson, Anne Rabbitte, said that some children were being pressurised to break into homes and sports clubs, or to shoplift, and that these proposals would punish coercive parents.
“We need to protect children who are used for crime,” she said. “I talk about children who are doing shoplifting, talk about children who are breaking into GAA pitches, I talk about children who are breaking into bathroom windows and helping in burglaries and opening front doors.”
The Galway East TD said that children were being used by older siblings, by unscrupulous adults, or by family members.
The TD said retailers welcomed the proposals and supported them, adding: “On a regular basis, it leads to more sinister crime, as the child gets older.”
Ms Rabbitte said the maximum sanction was 10 years in jail. The new law would also empower gardai to intervene in cases involving children or teenagers.
A report by special rapporteur on child protection, Geoffrey Shannon, has already identified a major gap in the current laws.
The new proposals would cover “the real, small, insidious crime behaviour, from the petty lifting of a packet of Rolos, inside in a supermarket” to serious crimes, Fianna Fail said.
Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone, says that there is ongoing research into children who are being dragged into criminal networks. The results of this University of Limerick study will help inform any position on such legislation, her spokesman said.
Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, has yet to study the Fianna Fail proposals, and a decision will be made when the legislation is introduced, at a later stage, his spokesman said. The proposals would see someone convicted, if they recruited, incited, directed, or induced a child to engage in criminal activity.
The introduction of the bill comes after reports at the weekend that children were caught up in looting of shops in Dublin, during Storm Emma.
Deputy Rabbitte added: “As it stands, while incitement to commit criminal offences is an offence, it can often prove difficult to secure a prosecution in cases involving minors. While children must accept personal responsibility, we have to acknowledge that there are unscrupulous individuals, who target vulnerable children and coerce them into carrying out crimes. This needs to be tackled”.