Thursday, 8 November 2018
I thank the Senator for raising this issue. I am responding on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality who, unfortunately, cannot be present today.
It is distressing when the remains of deceased persons are sometimes discovered on land often because of some construction activity or washed up on our riverbanks or coasts. I assure the Senator that the concerned State authorities make every effort to identify such persons by whatever means possible.
Unidentified remains are the subject of both a Garda investigation, assisted by the relevant State technical authorities and by the relevant coroner for the district where the remains are discovered. These investigations continue for as long as the possibility of a positive identification, by whatever means, remains possible.
The Minister is informed that there are few cases at this point where remains cannot be identified within a foreseeable timeframe.
The Senator suggested the need to conduct a national audit of unidentified human remains to establish the numbers involved. The Minister is unclear as to the purpose of such an audit. The primary investigating authorities will hold either the remains, or more often, relevant samples for scientific testing. Forensic Science Ireland, FSI, is the State’s forensic analysis service and works in close partnership with An Garda Síochána in the investigation of crime and presentation of evidence at criminal trials.
The DNA database commenced operation in November 2015 and its implementation is one of the most important crime fighting tools introduced within the State in recent times. Using the database, information is supplied to the Garda about links between people and unsolved crimes. These crimes have ranged from burglary and criminal damage to crimes against the person, sexual assault and suspicious deaths.
The power of the database as an investigative tool is that it is providing Garda with investigative leads in previously unsolved serious crimes. The database can replace more traditional and time-consuming police investigative methods and provide more focus to a criminal investigation. The DNA database currently contains more than 21,000 profiles and this figure growing all the time.
The Minister also notes the recent successes by FSI in identifying unknown remains, to which the Senator referred. These successful outcomes can finally bring some closure to the families and relations of these missing persons. These successes were possible due to advances in DNA technology. The DNA database can retain samples from relatives of missing persons and use these samples to aid in the identification of unknown remains.