Raising the age of criminal responsibility in the Republic of Ireland: a legacy of vested interests and political expediency
Throughout much of its history, juvenile justice in the Republic of Ireland has been oriented towards a justice as distinct from a welfare model. In the twenty-first century this was heavily amended pursuant to a justice agenda that emphasised criminalisation and punishment for offenders as young as 10 years of age. The treatment of the age of criminal responsibility has been an integral part of this trajectory. Raising the age of criminal responsibility from the common law low of 7 years in the Republic of Ireland has proved a surprisingly difficult endeavour. This article examines why the age of criminal responsibility in the Republic of Ireland was maintained at the common law age of 7 years, why there should have been such dithering over the reform when it eventually did come, and why the current law still criminalises children of a very young age. It argues that answers to these questions can be found in a volatile combination of religious values and interests, economic and social constraints, public intolerance of childhood offending, a lack of principled political leadership at the heart of the state, and the relative neglect of expert knowledge from the behavioural and neuro-sciences.