Gardaí in a number of divisions failed to submit forensic data satisfactorily to the national DNA database system, according to a new report.
The database is used to investigate and solve crimes including robberies, firearms and drug offences, aggravated sexual assaults, aggravated burglaries and other crimes.
The DNA Database System Oversight Committee, the group responsible for overseeing the integrity and security of the database, said it would continue to actively monitor the non-submission of samples in 2022.
The report also commends An Garda Síochána for its work on the issue of non-submission of samples since 2019.
It indicates “that measures have been taken by An Garda Síochána and the National Forensic Coordination Office (NFCO) and that procedures have been introduced and implemented which have a noticeable impact on the majority of Garda divisions” since the issue was raised in the committee’s 2019 report. .
“Nevertheless, there remain areas of concern regarding a small number of divisions regarding their levels of non-submissions and this matter will remain under review by the committee,” the report adds.
In its findings, the panel added “with respect to the issue of samples not submitted, highlighted in the 2019 annual report and referenced in the 2020 annual report, the panel is satisfied that the relevant recommendations that have been put implementation have resulted in very positive improvements to this problem”.
Reacting to the report, the Department of Justice said in a statement to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that the DNA database is an “important source of information to assist An Garda Síochána in criminal investigations and in the identification of missing persons or unknown”.
“The Department of Justice supports the work undertaken by the various agency parties to the database to ensure its effective operation. In accordance with our governance responsibilities, department officials remain in regular contact with the agencies involved in the resolution any outstanding issues affecting the database.
A garda statement said that due to “the wide variation in crime volumes within garda divisions, the statistics are not directly comparable; busier and more populated divisions have higher crime rates will draw more DNA samples.”
“This office understands that reference to ‘continued levels of non-submission of samples in specific regional divisions’ refers only to slightly above average levels reported in other divisions,” the statement added.
“Furthermore, ‘non-submission’ does not imply that such samples are misplaced/lost etc. rather that they are not submitted within the required internal deadlines within An Garda Síochána, as the legislation is imprecise as to the prescribed deadlines”, indicates the press release of the garda.
The monitoring report also indicates that the committee will continue to examine the robustness and security of the information systems that safeguard the database and its safe operation, while also examining the taking of DNA samples from convicts in prison and taking samples from garda personnel for disposal. clues.
The elimination index
The Elimination Index is a category of data samples in the DNA database that includes gardaí, FSI personnel, and GSOC. These samples are taken to identify any potential contamination from the crime scene.
Responding to the ongoing review of the taking of samples from garda personnel for the Elimination Index databases, An Garda Síochána said in a statement that the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and System of DNA database) became operational on November 20, 2015.
“It is mandatory for members of An Garda Síochána recruited from this date to provide a DNA sample to be included in the elimination index,” the statement said.
“The report recognizes the difficulties encountered during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020/2021, but An Garda Síochána fully complies with the provisions of Article 41 of the law.
“The members of An Garda Síochána, newly assigned to Crime Scene Investigation since November 20, 2015, also comply with this legislation, in accordance with Article 42,” the statement added.
“There is no legal obligation for members of An Garda Síochána recruited before November 20, 2015 to provide their DNA/personal data”.
The Association of Guard Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) said it had not seen the report.
Its general secretary, Antoinette Cunningham, said in a statement that any issues relating to “DNA submission by our members must be subject to a consultative process and political guidance”.
“And at this stage, no such consultation has taken place with AGSI,” Ms Cunningham said.
Garda Representative Association President Brendan O’Connor said problems with samples not being submitted would be easy to rectify.
“We welcome the acknowledgment that the situation has improved. Of course, with all the new procedures and protocols, and DNA has only really entered the fray in recent years, it will take some time to let him settle down,” said Mr O’Connor.
“What we need to know is what the problem is here. What the problem is and it should be easily solved with proper training and proper protocols for members. If there is an obstacle, it should be quite easy to overcome.
“With respect to non-submission, we need to know if samples are being taken and they are not progressing within the proper timelines and protocols – so there is a logistical issue.
“Or is this a case where members are performing their duties and have the proper training and knowledge on what is needed to take samples. We just need a little more clarity,” added Mr. O’Connor.
Regarding the garda samples taken for the Elimination Index databases, Mr O’Connor said its members “are keen to participate in any process that helps solve the crime and brings the perpetrators to justice”.
The DNA Database Oversight Committee report also acknowledges significant disruption in gardaí sample collection due to the pandemic.
“It has been noted that there have been significant disruptions in the taking of samples from garda recruits/newly appointed members of the AGS following the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This matter was discussed at length with the commissioner of the Garda [Drew] Harris and the Detective Chief Superintendent [Paul] Cleary when the committee met with them in December and concerns were raised about resuming sample collection as soon as possible,” the report added.
“It was noted that a protocol was in the final stages of completion regarding this matter as of December 31, 2021. The matter will remain under review,” the committees’ report said.
The oversight committee will also monitor the taking of DNA samples from convicts who are serving prison sentences by the Irish Prison Service, which has stopped “due to the emergence of Covid-19”.
The committee wrote to the Chief Executive of the Irish Prison Service (IPS) in May and June 2021 seeking clarification on the matter. The DG confirmed that the relevant policies and practices are under review and are receiving their attention.
In a statement to Morning Ireland, the IPS confirmed that the taking of DNA samples from convicted prisoners would resume in September.
The DNA database system is used to investigate suspected crimes, for criminal investigations, to help find missing persons and identify strangers
The report also shows that Ireland’s DNA database system contributed to 920 criminal investigations and grew by 20% last year to reach 58,703 in 2021.