Justice Agencies Conference – “Youth Justice Policy in Ireland – Where to Next?” 

4 July 2017 

The Minister of State, Department of Justice and Equality, David Stanton TD today opened the 4th Annual Irish Criminal Justice Agencies Conference, “Youth Justice Policy in Ireland – Where to Next?”. The conference, which is being held in Dublin Castle, is a collaboration involving the Irish Youth Justice Service as lead agency, the Department of Justice and Equality, An Garda Síochána, the Irish Prison Service, the Probation Service and the Association for Criminal Justice Research and Development (ACJRD). 

The focus of this year’s conference is the Children Act 2001 and the commitment in the Government’s Youth Justice Action Plan 2014-2018 to review the legislation that established the legal framework for dealing with young people who commit offences. The Action Plan aims to progress a wide range of issues, which support the implementation of Government policy on youth crime and help to inform future developments in this field of activity. 

The Conference, which is fully booked out, is being attended by a wide range of interested parties including academics, policy makers, state and non-state practitioners, non-governmental organisations and most importantly, young people. Speakers during the plenary sessions of the conference include Judge John O’Connor, Children Court, Dr. Ursula Kilkenny, University College Cork, Professor Geoffrey Shannon, Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Julie Ahern, Children’s Rights Alliance and Ms. Roxana Ungureanu, West University Timisoara, Romania.  

Addressing the Conference, Minister Stanton referred to the support provided to the State agencies operating in the youth justice field by the management and staff of community based organisations working on the ground with young people. The Minister said, “I thank them for the great work they do in preventing anti-social and criminal behaviour by steering youths into positives activities. I encourage them to share their views and experiences of how the current youth justice system manifests itself on the ground and the issues that presents for them and the services they provide.” 

Where children come into conflict with the law, the Children Act 2001 requires the various authorities within the youth justice system to apply incrementally a series of measures. These range from diversion from prosecution in the courts, to non-custodial sanctions handed down by the courts, to detention of the child as a last resort. Minister Stanton referred to the need to reflect upon how well the current approach has been working in practice and the new challenges and issues that have emerged over the years of the Act’s operation. The Minister said, “We want to hear what works well from the legislation and the policies and practices that have underpinned its operation. Where problems are identified, we want to hear your ideas for addressing them and your solutions for improving and developing the system.” 

The Minister referred to the substantial investment by the Government in community based youth justice initiatives for which some €17m in funding is being allocated in 2017, with co-funding support being provided under the Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning of the European Social Fund.  

He also referred to the positive developments in the area of research and building the evidence base to better inform decisions in relation to policy and programme planning and design. In this regard, he mentioned the establishment of the Research Evidence into Policy, Programmes and Practice Project in the University of Limerick, a three-year partnership agreement between the Irish Youth Justice Service (Department of Children and Youth Affairs) and the School of Law, University of Limerick. This Project is essentially concerned with improving the evidence base, which will offer the opportunity to make better policy, programme and practice decisions. This will support smarter investment of monies in public services, while contributing to the achievement of better outcomes for children and young people as envisaged under the Government’s National Policy Framework for Children - “Better Outcomes Brighter Futures”. 

The conference will be closed by Dr. Fergal Lynch, Secretary General, Department of Children and Youth Affairs who spoke on behalf of Minister Katherine Zappone, T.D..