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Question

98. Deputy Duncan Smith asked the Minister for Justice the status of the work of her Department on the identification of unidentified bodies and linking this data with the missing persons database; the progress her Department has made in its work referenced in a reply to a Topical Issue matter raised by this Deputy on 4 March 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36632/21]

Answer

Deputy Heather Humphreys: I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. At the outset, I would like to acknowledge the pain and trauma experienced by all families of missing persons. I am deeply conscious of how difficult life is for loved ones who simply do not know what has happened to their relative. My Department is committed to working with all relevant State bodies to help more families find their missing relatives.
As the Deputy will be aware, the national DNA database, administered by Forensic Science Ireland, FSI, has been a significant breakthrough in identifying missing and unknown persons in recent years. Since 2017, FSI has assisted in the identification of 48 sets of human remains who had been unknown up to that point. In 2020, DNA profiling and relationship testing, in partnership with the missing persons unit of An Garda Síochána, was used to help in identifying nine people. FSI and the Garda have worked in partnership over the past number of years to deliver a DNA testing facility for families of missing persons at the national missing persons day ceremony run by my Department annually, significantly enhancing the event.
I am informed that preliminary work was carried out by An Garda Síochána in 2019 to gather information on unidentified remains that may be located with individual coroners across the country. My officials have examined ways to update and take forward that work, while fully respecting the independent role of the coroners as set out in the Coroners Act 1962.
To this end, I have recently approved the following measures. My officials will write to each coroner to ask what cases of unidentified remains he or she has dealt with since 2019 and progress in this area will be monitored centrally through a new question on the annual statistics return from coroners. The results of the number of cases identified in each coronial district will be shared with the Garda missing persons unit. This will provide an overview of the current situation since 2019 across the country.