485. Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Justice the approach being developed for intensive engagement to divert young persons from the risk of slipping into the drugs environment in pilot areas known as green towns; and the experience of successes from such projects to date. [27557/21]


Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Deputy James Browne): As the Deputy may be aware, I recently published the new Youth Justice Strategy 2021-27. This Strategy includes a commitment to develop the work of the Garda Youth Diversion Projects (GYDPs) to include targeted work with ‘harder-to-reach’ young people. This includes young people heavily involved in crime and anti-social behaviour, for whom there are little supports and interventions available in practice, unless they are before the courts, in which case they may be under the supervision of the Probation Service. The Strategy also prioritises early intervention work, including with younger children who are assessed as being at serious risk. Both these cohorts may include children at risk of recruitment by crime gangs.
The development of this work within the GYDP network will be supported by the REPPP Project, (Research Evidence into Policy, Programmes and Practice), at the School of Law in the University of Limerick (UL). The REPPP has led on the “Greentown Report”, which studied the influence of criminal networks on children in Ireland, and was published in December 2016. The REPPP project is a strategic research partnership between UL and the Department of Justice.
The Greentown Report identifies crime networks as a separate and plausible risk factor underlying criminal offending by certain children. It outlines how the influence of criminal networks increases the level of offending by a small number of children and entraps them in offending situations.
The Greentown Report recommended the design of a programme to include interventions with children and their families to help them withstand the influence of criminal networks. The REPPP project team implemented a bespoke design process to produce a model for an Irish evidence-informed intervention programme. This new “Greentown Programme” has been designed with the input of leading international expertise on crime and criminal networks, together with Irish scientific, policy and practice expertise in child protection and welfare, drugs and community development.
Pilot applications of the Greentown programme, developed by the REPPP, commenced in two locations in 2020 and will run for three years. The learning from these pilots will then be incorporated into mainstream GYDP practice. This specially designed intervention programme was developed with international expert advice, to tackle coercive control of children by criminal groups which entraps them in offending situations. Funds are already available for the initial pilots from the Dormant Accounts Funds, with a total of €4.2m allocated over three years.
The implementation of the Greentown pilot programme is part of the Strategic Objectives of the Youth Justice Strategy 2021-2027. This implementation process began with the establishment of the Governance and Strategy Group, and the Youth Justice Oversight Group. Both groups are chaired by the Department of Justice, which will provide oversight arrangements for Youth Justice Initiatives, including the Greentown pilots, to ensure that there is a cohesive response in practice to the needs of particular cohorts of children and particular communities.