Minister McEntee launches new research which offers hope for children caught up in crime networks



27 January 2021


This morning, Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD, is launching new ground-breaking research published by the University of Limerick and announcing the commencement of a newly designed community intervention programme based on that research. These intervention programmes will offer new hope and opportunities for children caught up in serious and prolific crime.


For the last five years, the Greentown project has lifted the lid on a hidden crime problem in Ireland, uncovering significant evidence of children’s engagement in crime networks. The research indicates that up to 1,000 children across the State could be involved with a criminal network.


This innovative project, a partnership between the School of Law at University of Limerick, the Department of Justice and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) provides new insights into how criminal networks attract and confine children, encouraging and coercing them to be involved in serious crime and limiting their opportunities to escape their influence.


Launching the reports, Minister McEntee said,


‘’I would like to thank Dr Sean Redmond and his colleagues for authoring these reports. It is vital that we break the link between criminal gangs and the young people they try to recruit into a life of crime.


“We must break the cycle of criminality as early as possible and the Greentown project gives us the tools we need to stop criminal gangs persuading young people to join their networks.  


“The research and evidence demonstrates that this is a serious issue and one which demands a serious and rapid criminal justice response.


“The fact that an estimated 1,000 children across the State are engaged with criminal networks illustrates the work we have to do. Our plans to outlaw the grooming of children into crime is a clear signal that we are serious about stopping the gangs from leading our young into a life of crime. 


“I would also acknowledge the work of officials in my Department, the Department of Children, and colleagues in An Garda Síochána whose flexibility and engagement has been invaluable in producing these reports.”


The Greentown Project is today publishing four reports and announcing the commencement of a newly designed community intervention programme based on the research. 


This programme is being implemented on a pilot basis in two locations. These pilots will get underway shortly and the lessons learned from the pilots will have a key influence on the development of the Department’s policies and interventions in the youth justice area


Three of the reports are locally based case studies. Greentown and Redtown focus on network activity in two provincial towns. Bluetown is an examination of criminal networks in one Dublin location.


The fourth report is a national survey which assessed the prevalence of problems identified in the Greentown study across Ireland.  Taken together, the reports provide detailed examinations of the features of criminal networks that operate in locations where children were detected for involvement in high levels of burglary and drugs for sale and supply. The national study permits an estimation of the size of the problem across the State.


Minister of State in the Department of Justice with responsibility for Youth Justice, James Browne TD, welcomed the reports and the new community intervention programme, saying,


‘’It is evident that much of the crime mentioned in these reports is drug related. This is a problem in urban and rural settings alike.


“I look forward to the commencement of the community intervention programme, and the further roll out of multi-agency programmes to help steer young people away from a life of crime.’’


‘’I will also be launching a Youth Justice Strategy in the coming weeks - a key factor in this strategy will be to bring key stakeholders together to ensure that children can be engaged with before they enter the criminal justice system.


‘’The recently announced legislation outlawing the coercion of children into a life of crime is another important tool in the fight against crime networks using children as a resource to carry out criminal activity on their behalf.’’


Speaking about the project, Dr Sean Redmond, Adjunct Professor of Youth Justice at University of Limerick and Principal Investigator for the Greentown project said,


“This is the culmination of five years’ work spent trying to lift the lid on how criminal networks in Ireland exploit children to commit crime. The three case studies have dug deep into networks in Greentown, Redtown and Bluetown. In particular, we were interested in how they suck children in with promises of bling and a party lifestyle and retain them through debts, obligations and fear.


‘’The national prevalence study that we are also launching today, with huge support from Garda Juvenile Liaison Officers, gives us an idea of the size of the problem. We estimate approximately 1,000 children across the state are engaged or at risk of engagement with a criminal network. From a child protection perspective, these children are clearly being exploited by adults. From a law enforcement perspective, they appear to commit a significantly disproportionate amount of youth related crime


‘’It’s really important that we understand what this problem looks like, its size, its shape and what makes it tick before we propose solutions. When we compared the local criminal networks in the three different locations we found was that while there were common features, each one had a distinctive character that has relevance to how you intervene to reduce its influence”


In December 2020, The Greentown Project was awarded first place at the European Crime Prevention Awards. The project was hailed as a good example of a multi-agency approach and the award committee particularly noted that the Greentown project,     


“…holds an unparalleled theoretical foundation. It is well designed with a methodological and holistic approach. The project is a good example of a multi-agency approach…. the project is well documented and as a result can be replicated in other countries. Although the project is in its early stages it is considered one to keep a close eye on in the future”.


The Greentown, Bluetown and Redtown reports as well as the National Prevalence Study can be accessed by clicking on the following link -




Notes for Editors


A new model of intervention


Over the last three years the research team at University of Limerick has been working with international and national experts in organised crime, youth justice, child welfare and community development to design a new model of intervention which can respond to the many challenges facing children who get caught up in the ‘pressure cooker’ environment of a criminal network. Interventions with children alone will have limited potential to deal with the potentially toxic eco-system that characterises their involvement in a crime network. Informed by a wide range of evidence the programme is built on four core elements, responsive to local conditions delivered simultaneously and sustained over a long period of time. 


The new intervention programme will commence work with two local communities to implement the four core elements that make up the Greentown programme:


  1. Network disruption  

By examining the network, the University of Limerick research team will identify the means by which local children are recruited and retained, This element of the programme will Identify and target  individuals involved in cultivating relationships with children for crime., and employ legitimate means  to frustrate this activity


  1. Improving Community Efficacy

Local activities designed to improve the ability of the local community to withstand network influence and take back control of public spaces


  1. Improved Pro-Social Opportunities

Pulling out the stops to encourage and incentivise children involved in a criminal network to re-engage with school, training or to secure and sustain employment


  1. Improved Family Functioning

An intensive case-work relationship with families where children are engaged with crime networks. This element of the programme will seek to improve parenting capacity, acknowledging that parents may have client relationships with key network actors


Greentown Programmes

The programme will commence trials in two communities in Ireland, each overseen by a local advisory committee involving state agencies and community representatives. The locations are not disclosed so that the programme can intervene in a discreet manner.


The original Greentown study, published in 2016, found the first scientific evidence of children’s involvement in criminal networks in Ireland. This study detailed the processes that influenced children’s engagement with criminal networks and the often coercive means by which they remain involved.


The study found that family and kinship networks were key to the ongoing longevity of network presence in Greentown, a distinctive feature that made network relationships stronger and more resilient. The study also identified that the crime network in Greentown was likely to be associated with abnormally high levels of crime by children. Dr Sean Redmond is the author of the Greentown study.


The Redtown study published today finds that the structure of the crime network was dependant on the type of crime being committed. Burglary related crime appeared to be carried out by low status, chaotic and severely disadvantaged families with intergenerational links to crime. The study also reports evidence of parents passing on pro-criminal norms and coaching their children for offending. There was evidence that one 16-year-old was at the centre of a group of young people which contained siblings and peers (some extended family) involved in prolific crime. All the young people involved in burglary in Redtown also appeared to be linked to drug related crime. Progressions were identified where children were detected for possession and then front-line community level sales. Some children became involved in the transfer and distribution of larger quantities of illicit drugs. The drugs related network was reported to be hierarchical with higher status individuals not featuring in detections. Dr Catherine Naughton, Research Fellow at the School of Law, University of Limerick is the lead author of the Redtown study.


The Bluetown Study published today identifies four area-based criminal networks in one geographical area. The first network identified was family based and hierarchical in nature. The second and third networks were based around peer relationships and neighbourhood. A fourth network appeared to have a looser drugs orientated and more fragile organisational structure. All four networks in Bluetown appeared to involve relationships with different levels of trust between members and this affected network strength and stability. However, the key contribution from the Bluetown study is that each network had distinctive character, features and properties. The corollary of this is that in engaging a criminal network, it is critically important to understand how it ticks and what sustains it, before intervening. Eoin O’Meara Daly Research Fellow at the School of Law, University of Limerick,  is the lead author of the Bluetown study.


The National Prevalence Study published today is a report from a survey distributed to all Garda Juvenile Liaison Officers (JLOs) in Ireland. JLOs are part of the national Diversion Programme for children who have committed criminal offences. Given their local knowledge of individual cases processed by the Diversion Programme, JLOs were considered ideally placed to (a) gauge the prevalence of children’s involvement in more serious and prolific offending, (b) describe the key features of the children involved in more serious and prolific offending and (c) know whether any children are also engaged in network-related criminal activity.


The survey achieved an almost 90 per cent response evenly represented across the country. The key finding from this study was that JLOs estimated that a minority (1 in 8) of the children involved in the Diversion Programme fit the profile of the children who featured in the Greentown study. From this we estimated that up to 1,000 children in the state may fit this profile. These children lived in both urban and rural areas. Dr Catherine Naughton is the lead author of this study.


How were the studies undertaken?


The evidence provided by the three local case studies relies on:




The evidence provided by the national prevalence study relies on:    



All studies therefore refer to Garda statistics and local Garda testimony. The detailed tacit knowledge of local Garda members permitted a non-invasive research strategy to achieve a detailed account of local network activity. Further studies will benefit from the inclusion of other data sources, in particular individuals involved and affected by criminal networks. However, the risks involved for children and families in securing first-hand accounts should not be underestimated in such adverse circumstances. 


What happens next?


The learnings from the research phase will now be applied in two pilots, which will commence shortly.  The locations of the pilots (one in Dublin and one in a provincial town) are not being disclosed to ensure that the work can continue in a discrete manner and without  stigmatising individual communities. Lessons learned from the pilots, which will be evaluated after two years, will be a key influence on the development of the Department’s policies and interventions in the youth justice area.