Statement on the Establishment of a new system for Unidentified Human Remains


I thank the Senator for raising this matter today.


It is distressing when the remains of deceased persons are sometimes discovered on land or washed ashore on our coasts. The concerned State authorities make every effort to identify such persons by whatever means possible. Fortunately, I am informed by coroners, that there are very few cases where remains cannot be identified within a foreseeable timeframe. More frequent are the discovery of skeletal remains or bones, usually as a result of some construction activity.


Senator Burke proposes that I should establish a new section for unidentified human remains which will centralise information and streamline the identification process”. He has previously submitted to me, a proposal from a well-respected Forensic Anthropologist that a Forensic Human Remains Identification Specialist position be established and located within the Department’s ambit.


Such a specialist, it is proposed, would centralise information and provide a service in respect of the identification of discovered bodies or parts of bodies. This, it is argued, could help coordinate the expertise required and be of greater assistance to the families of missing people.


I have asked that the various concerned Divisions and Agencies within my Departmental remit should carefully examine the proposal. That Departmental consideration is now underway. The initial feedback I have received suggest that a question to be answered is whether establishing a separate section, with attendant costs, or impacts on the work of other agencies concerned, is the best use of available resources. There may also be statutory changes required.

However, I am informed that there is no evidence to suggest that there are major deficiencies concerning the handling and ultimate identification of human remains. Most such remains are ultimately identified.  However, I would be very happy to engage further with Senator Burke on these issues.

I recognise that families and relations of persons who go missing for long periods have their hopes raised on reports of discoveries. We must ensure that all possible measures are taken to identify the deceased when remains are discovered.


I wish to commend Senator Burke for his efforts with regard to enhancing the identification of unidentified remains. He also has done significant work to advance proposals with regard to allowing families manage the affairs of missing persons. His Private Members Bill - the Civil Law (Presumption of Death) Bill - has passed all stages in the Seanad and is awaiting Second Stage in the Dáil.


That Bill, if enacted, will be of considerable assistance to the families of those who have gone missing. I have indicated that I will do all I can to facilitate its passage.