Dr Sean Redmond, Director of the Research Evidence into Policy, Programmes and Practice (REPPP) in the School of Law, is principal investigator on the Greentown project
Friday, 26 January 2024

The head of a unique University of Limerick-led research project into crime networks and young people has welcomed an extension of State funding for a further three years.

Dr Sean Redmond, Director of the Research Evidence into Policy, Programmes and Practice (REPPP) in the School of Law, is principal investigator on the Greentown project, which has developed an innovative and bespoke intervention approach to breaking the link between criminals and the vulnerable young people.

The programme not only aims to disrupt criminal networks in their recruitment of children into these networks but also offers an intensive programme to support children, young people and their families.

Welcoming the government’s decision to extend funding for the project, Professor Redmond said: “The issue of children being exploited for crime in a systematic manner by adults in their own communities is something that until recently we have had limited understanding about. Through our Greentown research at ground level we understand better how the criminal relationships that children can get stuck in are initiated and importantly, how they are sustained. When we can identify the forces that attract children into networks and then confine them its only then that we can start to help the children affected to escape the influence.”

Announcing the three-year extension, Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD said: “I am committed to breaking the link between criminals and the vulnerable young people they seek to recruit, and the extension of this programme, along with the enactment of new legislation to create specific offences for grooming of children into crime, sends a strong message to communities that grooming children into criminal activity will be tackled.

“Criminals do terrible damage to society, to their own communities and, ultimately to themselves. But some of the worst damage they do is to the children and young people they lure into their networks. Small initial involvement can lead to more frequent and serious offending down the line and suddenly there is no way out.

“The Greentown Programme is both about helping young people find a way out and about frustrating the gangs in their efforts to groom. It is creating effective early interventions so that our communities are eventually made safer for everyone.”

The Greentown Programme was designed for the Irish context by the REPPP team with the assistance of international experts.

The extension of the programme for a further three years will reduce the influence of criminal networks on children at risk of involvement in crime and improve the likelihood of pro-social outcomes for children who are already involved in criminal networks.

“This is a really complex area of policy and research, covering as it does law enforcement, child welfare and community quality of life,” explained Dr Redmond.

“Criminal networks hold a yoke over communities, usually underpinned with threats and menace. To add to the complexity, discipline is meted out by involved neighbours not strangers which means for a child in a backwater estate the confinement is near total; relentless surveillance by network members and no perceived way out.

“Our work has also been greatly enhanced by being able to build evidence-based pictures of how local networks operate using Garda crime date to channel the expertise and ingenuity of our local community partners. Vantage points at the whole network level and simultaneously at the level of individual relationships has been vital in understanding how the pieces fit together. However, we couldn’t have contributed in the way we have without the support of the Department of Justice which has been committed from the start to working jointly with us to develop strategies based on the evidence available to weaken the toxic links that characterise the children’s daily lives and strengthen pro-social ones.

“We continue to face many challenges but have seen sufficient promise of children escaping the clutches of criminals and embarking on trajectories of near normality again to make us think that with our partners we are on to something. The next three years will help us to consolidate the learning, get better at programme design, be more effective at engaging children and disrupting grooming relationships. The intention is that we will make this learning available for application in the communities where it is required.

“Not surprisingly there are few examples of programmes successfully dealing with this growing problem world-wide and other jurisdictions are looking to developments we are making in Ireland for inspiration and scientific leadership,” Dr Redmond added.

The Minister of State at the Department of Justice with responsibility for Youth Justice, James Browne TD said Greentown is already having an impact.

“Children are being exploited and deceived by criminal networks into believing crime can bring wealth and a lavish lifestyle. In reality, it brings debts, fear, intimidation and worse. We must ensure that we prevent the next generation from being used as pawns and runners by criminal groups.

“Just three years into the Greentown Programme, we have evidence that our interventions are having a positive impact. The learnings and outcome from the trial sites will be very important in developing our approaches to wrap around support for children vulnerable to criminal influences.

“I am pleased that the programme will continue its vital work out to the end of 2026. Furthering our understanding of how we can protect children from the influence of criminal networks and increase their chances of taking up pro-social opportunities to improve their long-term outcomes is an essential element of progressing the Youth Justice Strategy 2021-2027.”

The Minister and the Minister of State intend that a plan will be developed to allow the learnings from Greentown to be mainstreamed into existing Youth Justice Projects and into Garda operational responses.