The Government has announced it is to introduce a new law to prevent adults grooming children to commit crime.

The Exploitation of Children in the Commission of Offences Bill makes it an offence to compel, induce or invite a child to engage in criminal activity and carries a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said the new legislation is designed to break the link between organised crime and vulnerable young people and to stop criminal gangs leading children into a life of crime. 

However, some legal experts have warned that the crime may prove difficult to prosecute. 

Organised crime gangs and dangerous criminals have long used children as look outs, to carry guns, sell drugs or commit other serious crime on their behalf.

The children are often enticed by the lure of money and luxury goods but many also act out of fear.

The new bill announced today will make it an offence for an adult to compel, coerce, induce or invite a child to engage in criminal activity, with liability limited to the adult. 

While the law currently allows for an adult who causes a child to commit a crime to be found guilty as the principal offender, it does not recognise the harm done to the child. 

Minister McEntee said the new bill is designed to address this issue. The adult can be prosecuted even if the child's attempt to commit a crime are unsuccessful. 

She also said the new legislation will complement the work of the University of Limerick School of Law, which outlines how criminal networks entrap children and increase their offending.

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Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, Minister McEntee said the new legislation will show children there is a law to protect them and "the people who are doing this to them" can be punished. 

She said she is aware there will be questions raised as to how this will be done, especially if it requires people to testify against family members.

"It can be difficult but it is no reason not to do this," she said.

The minister also acknowledged that the legislation will not be enough as it is not just about putting in laws, but putting supports in place also, within communities to ensure children are steered away from crime. .

"They are offered nice things, we know that it doesn't lead to anywhere good. We know some children end up in  jail or in some instances worse."

She said a youth justice strategy - The Greentown Project - will be launched in the coming weeks along with other work being done where problems have been identified in this area.

The announcement of the bill reflects a criminal justice response but those working in communities worst affected by organised crime also say this bill needs to be supplemented with alternative education, employment and social programmes to provide children and families with the support and skills they need to keep them from falling prey to criminals and crime gangs. 

The manager of the Reach Out programme in Kilbarrack in Dublin said the bill represents a good start and that while some children are lured into crime others get pulled into it through "cultural subtlety".

Tiernan Williams said that for many such children crime is intergenerational and "all they know, it becomes a career option". 

He also said many of these young people have no fear of being sent to jail because their peers, friends and family members have also been imprisoned.

An expert on crime and justice said the new law is "important legislation" but he predicted it will be "incredibly challenging" to enforce.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Dr Johnny Connolly from the University of Limerick Centre for Crime, Justice and Victim Studies, said it is positive that the spotlight was being put on this issue.

"It highlights an often hidden harm, particularly for vulnerable young people where the drug trade has the most pernicious effects."

However, he said the law is just one aspect of a whole system approach and while there is a need to disrupt criminal networks, there is also a need to support communities.

"What these criminal networks provide is anti-social community structure, so we need to look at pro-community structures to steer young people away from these networks and help them resist that."