Young people are regarded as “plentiful and expendable” by gang bosses, who are ruling over communities through fear, a study has found. The research, published today, comes as Fianna Fáil is proposing legislation to make those who use children to do drug runs liable to up to 10 years in prison.
The study, ‘Building Community Resilience’, used crime data and interviews with gardaí and community activists to identify and map out criminal networks across southwest Dublin. Researchers Johnny Connolly and Jane Mulcahy said “criminal networks” better described the varying levels of organisation.
They identified 650 criminals, then pared them down to two identifiable criminal networks, one with 44 members and the other with 52 people, including a large number of teenagers in the 15-17 age bracket.
In both those cases, the numbers did not include younger children some of whom are as young as 11. However, young children are engaging at an early stage with the networks and often acting as “runners”.
As one garda said:
All the young boys are doing it … The more organised boys at the top … don’t care what happens to the young boys … They’re expendable, as they say.
The report said the young people were regarded as “plentiful and expendable” by the networks. Gardaí said teenagers and younger children look up to local gang lieutenants. One garda said: “They just see the handy cash they get in and the fancy clothes and they want to be like that.”
Others were entrapped by drug debts through addiction or having drugs seized by gardaí. The report found that one of the networks was highly organised with a group of five ‘key players’ and two local lieutenants directing operations on the ground.
Referring to the main players, one garda said: “They don’t get caught with doing anything stupid, they are smart. They are very organised, it’s like a well-oiled machine.”
One garda said communities felt “terrorised” by the networks and silenced.
Separately, Fianna Fáil’s drugs strategy spokesman John Curran said the party’s proposals would make causing a child to sell or distribute illicit drugs punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Its proposals would also make it a criminal offence to buy drugs from a minor.