Juvenile crime failings may exist on a ‘wider scale’

Garda chief deems inaction on 3,500 children a ‘failure’ amid fears for adult cases

The Garda's failure to prosecute thousands of crimes, including one rape, committed by juveniles may be replicated across the wider adult criminal justice system, the chair of the Policing Authority has said.

Josephine Feehily was speaking after it emerged 7,894 criminal offences committed by 3,489 child suspects were not progressed because of "Garda inaction" over a seven-year period.

Some 57 of the suspects are now dead, with most dying after they turned 18. However, Ms Feehily said some of them would still be alive had their cases been progressed properly and interventions made to help them.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris described the debacle as a "failure" on the part of his force, adding it was "embarrassing" and "professionally humiliating". He apologised to the child offenders, their victims and the public.


“We have failed, and failed by a very considerable margin, in a large number of cases,” he said.

Cases would now be examined and may lead to disciplinary action against some of the Garda members involved; some 3,400 gardaí or a quarter of the force.

Offenders and victims

A hotline is to be made available for anyone who believes their case was one that was allowed to lapse. Justice sources last night said it was possible the debacle may result in legal actions from child offenders and their victims, which include 2,492 people and 988 businesses.

Asked by The Irish Times if there may be a large number of crimes involving adult offenders that were also not acted upon, Ms Feehily said she was concerned.

“It’s unlikely that [garda] behaviours seen to exist on a wide scale, judging by the numbers involved here, are confined to gardaí dealing with young people,” she said.

“It must at least be an open question as to whether similar behaviours, and therefore similar lapsed cases and similar opportunities to reoffend, have occurred in relation to adult offenders.”

The lapsed cases have been identified during a review of all children referred – some multiple times – to the Garda youth diversion programme.

It deals with children from 12 up to their 18th birthday; seeking to divert them away from crime and also away from the criminal justice system proper. In order to be accepted into the programme, youth offenders must admit their crimes.

The internal Garda review examined all 158,521 referrals, involving 57,386 children, into the diversion programme between 2010 and 2017.

Unsuitable cases

Some 103,515 referrals were deemed suitable for the programme and 55,506 were deemed not suitable. These unsuitable cases should have been progressed through the wider justice system, mainly via prosecutions.

But in 7,894 cases nothing further happened despite there being grounds, and enough evidence, to pursue the cases.

The crimes the children committed included one rape and one other sexual assault as well as drugs and firearms offences. A total of 55 crimes not pursued were deemed serious but most were less serious – criminal damage, theft, public orders and others.

Changes in Garda practice and the force’s Pulse database over the last two years have ensured far fewer cases were overlooked towards the end of the seven-year period under review. In 2017, for example, just over half of 1 per cent of cases resulted in no action, though that was as high as 7 per cent of cases in 2010.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times