DNA database

Wed, Sep 19, 2012, 01:00

TWELVE YEARS of political dithering and administrative foot-dragging have deprived the Garda of one of the most important tools for identifying serial offenders and eliminating innocent people from lists of suspects. Politicians, Garda representatives, lawyers and the Law Reform Commission all favour establishing an Irish DNA database and exchanging information with foreign police agencies. But legislative action and funding have fallen short.

In 2000, the then government announced it would set up a DNA database to facilitate the investigation of serious crime. Having made a statement of intent, however, the Law Reform Commission was asked for advice and draft legislation did not appear until 2007. A decision by the European Court of Human Rights forced that Bill to be withdrawn. In spite of that, Ireland signed up to the EU Plum Treaty of 2008 that committed all states to establish DNA databases and to engage in the cross-border exchange of information. Earlier this year, an agreement was signed with the United States to exchange such data in combating serious crime.

Many countries give undertakings they cannot immediately fulfil. But Irish politicians and administrators have a particular weakness in that regard. Even when legislation reaches the statute books, it is its enactment, rather than its enforcement, that receives most attention.

In opposition, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter emphasised the importance of modern technology in combating criminal activity and in assisting prosecutions, particularly in relation to dissident republican activity, international terrorism, the drugs trade, and burglary. Since then, however, he has presided over a criminal information system that is not fit for purpose, where even the fingerprint system does not allow for remote searching and legislation giving effect to a modern DNA database is still awaited.

As the budget nears, Mr Shatter and his department are being asked to make savings and provide a better service with reduced resources. Police stations will close. The number of gardaí will fall. Yet one of the steps that could improve Garda morale, reduce overall costs by speeding up investigations and have a dramatic impact on the effectiveness of policing and prosecutions is being delayed. A modern DNA database represents a necessary investment in crime detection. Legislative and administrative action is urgently required.