A proposed new law is aimed at stopping children and teenagers being dragged into a life of crime, Justice Minister Helen McEntee says.
The new legislation announced by the Government today aims to prevent gangs leading young people into the sale and supply of drugs.
It would see offenders given a maximum five year jail term on conviction by a jury.
Minister McEntee told The Pat Kenny Show that some legislation already exists, but these new laws will be focused on ensuring adult criminals face heavier penalties even if a crime isn't committed by the child.
She said: “We have a law act from back in 1997, which sets out it’s an offence for an adult… to procure, groom, coerce or force a child to commit an offence.
"They are treated as the principal offender, so you can press charges against the adult for the crime that has been committed by the young person.
“It doesn’t take into account the damage that is done to the child - these are children as young as eight or nine, and they’re vulnerable.
"What we’re introducing here is a separate offence where you can prosecute an adult for coercing, grooming or exploiting essentially a child - whether a crime is committed or not."
She said young people are becoming drug runners and dealers from a very young age, after being 'given nice things' and promised a comfortable lifestyle by drug gangs.
However, she said these stories 'never end well'.
She observed: “[It] starts off as something that may seem small and petty type of offences.
"[But] I’ve heard from different people who are now much older, who started moving into much more serious offences. They were very much entrapped, and felt there was no other way out."
The Justice Minister said the goal now is to send a 'very clear message' to criminals, but also to assure young people that they are victims.
She said it's important to 'take away the fear' young people feel when they wind up in such situations, so they know gardaí are there to help rather than punish them.