A garda report has found that 3,500 children got away with committing almost 8,000 crimes, including serious crimes, over a seven-year period because gardaí did not do their jobs properly.
The report shows the juvenile offenders, the majority of whom were already known to gardaí, should have been prosecuted, but were not.
More than 3,400 victims were affected by these crimes and An Garda Síochána is to write to them to apologise and offer support.
Three quarters of the crimes not properly investigated relate to public order, theft, traffic and criminal damage, but also included are 55 serious crimes, including the rape of a woman, another serious sexual offence and a case of child neglect.
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The figures have been published today in a garda report, which reviewed the Youth Referrals Scheme from 2010 to 2017.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris issued a public apology when he appeared before the Policing Authority this afternoon.
He said the work of 3,400 gardaí is being examined by chief superintendents to see whether or not disciplinary measures are required, adding that most of the cases are concentrated in very busy divisions.
The figure represents over a quarter of the force.
A national helpline - 1800-589 589 - has been set up for people who feel they may have been affected.
The service will operate from Monday to Sunday from 7am to 10pm for the next two weeks.
Commissioner Harris said most of the children were habitual, recidivist child criminals, juvenile offenders already well known to gardaí.
On behalf of An Garda Síochána, he said: "I want to apologise to more than 3,000 young people that we have let down."
He said each of these cases should have been investigated and gardaí have let society and the individuals involved down by not fulfilling their obligations to them.
"I want to apologise to those young people we let down, vulnerable young people, we should have done better by them, we failed. It was caused by organisational and individual failings."
Mr Harris said what has been published today is an interim report and undoubtedly some individual numbers will change.
He said they need to take into account when investigating the cases individual gardaí were involved in and look at a discipline process that may then follow, adding that they need to ensure the system is working properly today.
He said he hoped it would not take away from the work that is being done in relation to the youth diversion programme and preventing crime.
The Officer in charge of the Garda Youth Diversion Programme has admitted that thousands of juvenile offenders were not prosecuted for multiple offences.
Assistant Commissioner Pat Leahy told the Policing Authority that 2,500 offenders were not prosecuted for up to two offences, another 870 had between three and ten, a further 35 had committed over 20 crimes while another seven youths were not prosecuted for more than 20 offences.
More than 158,521 youth referrals were examined and it was found that:
- In 16,877 cases there was no prosecution
- 7,894 (5%) had not been properly progressed by gardaí
- Another 4,851 were due to insufficient evidence to proceed
- Another 2,659 could not be prosecuted because of the actions of the injured party
- The remainder did not proceed because a suspect had died or could not be found (497)
- A time delay (383)
- No crime had been committed (291)
- It was not in the public interest to proceed (262)
- as a small number of other reasons (40).
Types of crimes
Of 7,894 crimes that should have been prosecuted, 73% of them were for public order.
However, gardaí say that 55 of those not dealt with were serious crimes, including the rape of a woman, another serious sexual offence, child neglect, threats to kill, aggravated burglary, violent disorder, and escaping from prison.
Almost 3,489 committed the crimes not properly dealt with by gardaí. Most of them were habitual, recidivist child criminals, juvenile offenders already well known to gardaí.
On average each child had come to garda attention seven times (four prior referrals, two prior charges, one prior summons) before they committed the crime they should have been prosecuted for and 34 times (ten referrals, 17 charges, seven summons) after it.
Almost 3,480 have been the victims of these crimes that should have been prosecuted; 2,492 were personal victims and another 988 were individual business victims.
Some even received a letter saying a person had been identified for the offence committed against them, but the offender was not subsequently prosecuted.
Gardaí say measures have been put in place to ensure this does not happen again.
They point out that the 8,000 cases represent 5% of the total number of incidents dealt with over the seven year period (2010-2017) that the review examined.
They also said that 96% of the incidents occurred between 2010 and 2015, followed by a marked reduction after the introduction of a new PULSE update in 2016, which introduced computer-based monitoring and reduced paper-based cases.
The rate of cases dropped from 7.3% in 2010 to 0.7% in 2017.
A new National Bureau for Child Diversion has been established headed by a chief superintendent, staffing and supervision has been increased, standard operating procedures for youth referrals and mandatory training programmes for gardaí have been introduced.
The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, and Minister of State, David Stanton, who has special responsibility for youth justice, have described the report as "unacceptable".
Minister Flanagan said "The failure to properly manage these cases is very concerning. I welcome the fact that the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, has shown a dedication to tackle these problems urgently and take all appropriate action. Addressing any failings by individual Gardaí is clearly a matter for the Commissioner himself and his team.
The Ministers said they would be keeping the matter under continuing review.