131. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the reason An Garda Síochána, in response to requests and reminders by the RIA on 4 April 2019, 17 April 2019 and 3 May 2019, did not release the body of a person (details supplied) for burial; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24482/19]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): My Department was made aware of the circumstances surrounding the death and burial of the person concerned. I want to express my deepest sympathies and condolences to that person's friends and colleagues on their loss.
It is a matter of profound regret to me, and to the Department, that her friends heard of her burial after the event. This must have been deeply distressing to all involved.
Where a person dies while they are being provided with accommodation by the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) of my Department, RIA works closely with the centre manager to assist the family in accessing the supports by the State, and to ensure that any residents affected by the death are assisted in accessing services that can support them. All deaths and serious incidents that occur within accommodation centres provided by the Department are referred to the Gardaí as a matter of course and the Gardaí in turn refer all deaths to the local Coroner's office.
I am informed by the Garda Commissioner that the death was investigated by An Garda Síochána in Galway as a sudden death. Significant enquiries were conducted by An Garda Síochána, via Interpol, in an effort to notify the deceased's next of kin. Following a thorough investigation, Gardaí were satisfied that there was nothing suspicious into this death. The County Coroner authorised the release of the remains for burial and Gardaí were not privy to this information and to the subsequent burial.
It is clear that there was a breakdown in communication in this particular case, which we very much regret. In an effort to better understand the communications between all parties concerned, a senior official from the Department spoke to the Coroner 7 June last. The Coroner noted the efforts that had been made to identify the deceased’s next of kin. The Coroner stated that the normal practice where someone is interested in the outcome of a coroner’s consideration of whether an inquest will be held into the death of a person is necessary or when a person’s remains are to be released for burial, is that a letter would be on file. In this case a formal request in writing was not recorded on the file and therefore the Coroner arranged for the appropriate and dignified burial of the deceased, through the relevant State agencies, as is the standard practice where next of kin have not been identified, despite efforts to do so.
While thankfully, the occurrences of deaths where the deceased remains unidentified, unclaimed or no next of kin is identified, are very rare, the Department will take appropriate action to ensure that formal requests are made in future so that friends and groups, who have expressed an interest, are properly informed through appropriate communications with the coronial service and by liaising with other agencies involved in this case.
The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) supported the organisation of a memorial for the person concerned, which was held shortly after her passing and was attended by her friends, centre management and members of staff from RIA. My colleague, Minister Stanton has written to her friends with the offer of assistance to organise an appropriate commemoration following her burial.