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Justice Dept. Publishes Coronial Data On Unidentified Remains

  • Minister James Browne welcomes publication of data on unidentified remains
  • Details relating to 44 unidentified people contained in the report
  • Samples will be gathered, where possible, from those remains where no sample was taken at the time of burial and FSI will attempt to extract DNA from these samples
  • Any DNA profiles obtained will be compared with samples held on Ireland’s National DNA Database

The Department of Justice today published, for the first time, information on unidentified human remains provided by Coroners around the country.

There are currently approximately 856 unsolved missing persons cases live on the Garda Pulse system. While the vast majority of missing persons cases are resolved quickly, many can remain unsolved for long periods of time.

The Department of Justice is acutely conscious of the impact that a person going missing has on their family, friends and loved ones, and is committed to doing everything possible to ensure families have the best chance of having these cases resolved.

Advancements in DNA profiling have led to case breakthroughs in recent years. The provision of a DNA profile to Forensic Science Ireland by family members of a missing person can assist in solving unidentified bodies and missing person cases.

With this in mind, in December 2022, Coroners were asked to return updated details of any unidentified remains for their coronial district as part of their annual statutory returns to the Minister for Justice. Minister McEntee committed to publishing this data once collated. Today, the Department of Justice is publishing the information returned by the Coroners, which may assist in the identification of the remains, for the first time.

The Department established a Forum in July 2021 alongside An Garda Síochána’s Missing Persons Unit and Forensic Science Ireland (FSI) to facilitate information exchange on unidentified remains.  The Unidentified Remains database has been compiled following an analysis of Coroners records.

The data published today comprises 44 records.  DNA profiles for 28 Unidentified Remains are on the National DNA Database. The Department of Justice intends to arrange for samples of the remaining 16 unidentified remains to be attained where possible, and FSI will attempt to extract DNA from these samples and upload DNA profiles to the National DNA Database. Given the complexities associated with historical remains, this process is expected to take some time to complete.

While the data being published today comprises the first full list of unidentified remains, additional cases may come to light. As a result the Department intends to publish updates to the unidentified remains data on an annual basis.   

Commenting on the publication of the coronial returns Minister Browne said: Today, as details of unidentified remains are published for the first time, we remember in particular the families and friends of missing people in Ireland and recognise the ongoing pain suffered and the lack of closure in the absence of the remains of their loved ones.

I know that the families of missing people have long called for the release of this information. We have listened to that request and I welcome the publication of that data today. It is important to say that this will not have been an easy task for coroners, given many of these files pre-date digitisation and would have required a physical trawl. I thank the coroners for their co-operation, and hope that the release of this information may assist in the identification and location of missing family members.

Importantly, there may be something contained in the information released today that triggers a memory or rings a bell with any one of us. If you or someone you know has any information that might assist in solving a missing person case, I would urge you to report it to An Garda Síochána. It’s never too late, and any information provided to An Garda Síochána may help those suffering the loss of their missing loved one to find some answers.”

Detective Chief Superintendent Colm Noonan, of An Garda Síochána said: “An Garda Síochána recognises the lasting sense of trauma for the families and friends of those who have gone missing. In 2018, An Garda Síochána commenced a substantial body of work in relation to unidentified human remains and this work continues to date.

An Garda Síochána are part of a working group which was established by the Department of Justice to explore the creation of an Unidentified Remains Database with representatives from the Department of Justice, Forensic Science Ireland and the State Pathologists Office.

Operation Runabay which was established in 2017 by the Missing Persons Unit, has a particular focus on advancing the investigation of cases involving unidentified persons discovered along the western coast of the United Kingdom. In recent years, the Missing Persons Unit has expanded this operation to include greater co-operation with the British National Crime Agency and other neighbouring jurisdictions, exchanging information related to missing persons and unidentified human remains both at home and in other jurisdictions.

As a member of the Maritime Missing Persons Expert Group, An Garda Síochána can circulate alerts to a number of countries enabling faster conveyance of information of unidentified remains.

An Garda Síochána and Forensic Science Ireland have worked in partnership over the past number of years to deliver a DNA testing facility for the families of missing persons. This service was available to the families of missing persons at the National Missing Persons Day ceremony in December 2022 and is available for any family of missing persons to engage with An Garda Síochána.

Mr Chris Enright, Director of Forensic Science Ireland said: “Forensic Science Ireland continues to work closely with the Missing Persons Bureau of An Garda Síochána. In 2022 FSI assisted in 74 Missing Persons cases where DNA reference samples from family members were submitted to FSI for DNA profiling and uploaded to the National DNA Database. FSI assisted in the identification of 12 Missing Persons in 2022. Forensic Science Ireland remains committed to continuously developing the science and technology available in support of Missing Person investigations.”

Queries about the information contained in the data published, including the current location of any unidentified remains, should be directed to the relevant Coroner.

The datasheet on unidentified remains can be found HERE

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