Seanad debates

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Commencement Matters

Coroners Service

2:30 pm

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Senator for his statement. On behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, who cannot be here today, I thank him for raising this subject that affords an opportunity to update the House of the most recent developments. I acknowledge his active involvement in promoting reform of the system in which the coroners operate.

Senator Conway, along with other members of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, met officials from the Tánaiste's Department on 23 November 2016 to continue engagement on this matter. The officials updated the committee on the extensive work that has already undertaken on the legal and medical aspects of the comprehensive review of the Coroners Bill 2007 directed by the Tánaiste.

The Tánaiste has now established a dedicated coroner unit in her Department. The unit will develop policy and contribute to the review of the legislative provisions with the clear mandate to do what needs to be done to bring about reform as soon as is practical. The unit became operational at the beginning of this month. It has started engagement with relevant stakeholders and a review of the latest developments in coroner organisations in similar states with a common law heritage.

The critical issue is that any proposals brought forward to the Oireachtas to move to a modern coroner system must be coherent and cost-effective. Most importantly, our new coronial law and service must meet our obligations to the people of this State and also those obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Coroners Bill 2007 was a significant attempt to bring about modernisation of both the law and practice of the coroner's investigation and the nature and role of the office of coroner itself. Responsibility would be transferred from local authorities to the Minister for Justice and Equality, with a new post of chief coroner, full-time coroners and a new central coroner service to provide enhanced support to coroners and to liaise with bereaved families. To operate the intensive requirements for improved coroner death investigation services, as set out in the 2007 Bill, and allowing for developments since, we must examine and decide on an appropriate delivery system. The new coroner unit will have to urgently consider whether the full-time model proposed in 2007 is still the optimum approach. This would end the current part-time coronial service, provided by either lawyers or doctors, in jurisdictions based on county or sub-county divisions. Such an approach has already been taken in the modernised coroner services of Northern Ireland and New Zealand. Those States also operate a lawyer-only coroner model.

While not the focus of today's discussion, I should mention the recent proposals to amend the law with regard to making certain deaths subject to mandatory inquests and to add to the range of permissible inquest verdicts put forward by Deputy Clare Daly and Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, respectively, in the Dáil and Seanad. Their proposals will be integrated into the review being conducted by the coroner unit in the Department.


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