The Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Brian Lenihan, has announced new legislation increasing the age of criminal responsibility from seven to 12 years.

The new provisions come into effect immediately.

Under Part 5 of the Children Act 2001, as amended by the Criminal Justice Act 2006, a child under the age of 12 cannot be charged with an offence.

An exception is made for ten and 11-year-old children charged with the most serious offences on the statute book.

'Young children do not have a full understanding of the consequences of criminal actions.

'This legislation takes very young children out of the criminal justice system and provides additional safeguards for children up to the age of 14,' Minister Lenihan said.

Under the new legislation children under 12 cannot be charged with an offence.

An exception is made in the case of ten and 11-year-olds charged with murder, manslaughter, rape or aggravated sexual assault.

Also, no proceedings can be taken against a child under the age of 14 without the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Where a child under 12 is suspected of committing an offence, he or she will be taken to his or her parents by a member of the Garda Síochána.

Intervention by the HSE will be provided where the child and his or her family are in need of support. Additional resources for the HSE have been provided to support interventions with troubled children.

Minister Lenihan said: 'This legislation strikes the right balance between protecting young children who offend and protecting their victims and society as a whole from criminal behaviour.'