Deputy Colm Burke asked the Minister for Justice if some or all aspects of an initial proposal (details supplied) sent to her Department in 2018 are being considered for implementation to aid the modernisation of practices regarding the way unidentified remains are being dealt with in Ireland; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20423/21]
1488. Deputy Colm Burke asked the Minister for Justice if a role and unit (details supplied) will be established for the centralising of information relating to unidentified remains; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20424/21]
1489. Deputy Colm Burke asked the Minister for Justice the timeframe for implementing a new development (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20425/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): I propose to take Questions Nos. 1487, 1488 and 1489 together.
I can inform the Deputy that significant progress has been made in recent years with the development of the National DNA Database to assist in the identification of human remains. The Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014 commenced on 20 November 2015, provided for the establishment of a DNA Database System for use by An Garda Síochána. The DNA database system, administered by Forensic Science Ireland, has two key functions:
1. To match the DNA profile from an individual to an unidentified crime scene profile and/or match the crime scene profiles across different crime scenes; and
2. To assist with identifying missing and unknown persons.
Different sections of the database hold samples from crime scenes; DNA profiles from suspects / offenders for matching against crime scenes; elimination samples from members of An Garda Síochána, Crime Scene Investigators etc., left inadvertently at crime scenes; and samples to identify missing persons and DNA profiles of persons whose identity is not known.
The missing and unknown persons section of the database hold the DNA profiles developed from biological samples relating to missing persons, such as from their clothing or other belongings. It also holds profiles from their close blood relatives (where their consent is forthcoming), who will have similar DNA. Profiles of persons who are unable to identify themselves due to illness or injury can also be entered on the DNA database, as can profiles from bodies of unidentified deceased persons.
The database can link missing persons or persons who are unable to identify themselves to their close family relatives through DNA matching. It is also able to match missing people (sometimes via their relatives) to unidentified bodies, helping to bring some element of closure for families searching for their loved ones. The database can also serve to eliminate a missing person if an unidentified body is found matching their description, assisting the Gardaí with their investigations.
The Act also provides for the exchange of DNA profiles of missing or unknown persons with law enforcement authorities in other jurisdictions. The database therefore facilitates searches for missing or unknown persons abroad as well as in Ireland.
Forensic Science Ireland and An Garda Síochána 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. This partnership has served to enhance the ceremony from that of a largely commemorative event to one which has contributed to raising awareness of the significant contribution made by DNA testing to the conclusion of a considerable number of missing persons cases over recent years.
This issue of unidentified remains has also been a focus of attention across the wider Justice sector. Work was carried out by An Garda Síochána in 2019 to record unidentified remains that may be located with individual Coroners across the country and plans to update and take forward that work are being progressed.