Collection of DNA samples from prisoners not expected to restart before September

Samples from sex offenders and other prisoners were halted in March 2020, as part of measures aimed at combating Covid-19 in Irish jails

The collection of DNA samples from convicted sex offenders and other prisoners in Irish jails for inclusion on the national DNA database has yet to resume after being halted for more than two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Plans are being prepared to restart the collection of such samples, which help to match suspects to crimes, but the new system is not expected to be up and running until September.

The Irish DNA database, which is now matching suspects with crime scenes in 48 per cent of cases, has also not been updated with DNA samples from all newly recruited Garda members. This was also a pandemic-related issue but the practice has since resumed within the force.

Samples are taken from Garda members to test if crime scenes may be contaminated by the DNA of members of the force who worked at a crime scene.


All gardaí recruited after 2015, when the new Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014 was enacted, are required to submit samples. Garda members recruited before that date are not legally obliged to submit a sample unless they work as dedicated scenes of crime personnel.

In relation to prisoners, samples can be taken from sex offenders and those serving sentences of five years or more while they are in jail. These are added to the DNA database in an attempt to link existing, or future, crimes to suspects.

The 2021 annual report of the DNA Database System Oversight Committee, chaired by Judge Catherine A Murphy, said it had by the end of last year been in contact with senior personnel in the Irish Prison Service and senior Garda officers to ensure the collecting of samples would resume promptly.

In reply to queries from The Irish Times, the Irish Prison Service said a range of new measures were introduced in March 2020 to combat the spread of Covid-19 in jails and that taking samples from prisoners was halted at that time as a precaution.

It added that last year as Covid-19 restrictions were being unwound, an opportunity was taken “to conduct a full review of DNA sampling policies and procedures” in order to update them and to identify staff training requirements.

“The review of policies and procedures was completed in early 2022 and the Irish Prison Service has engaged Forensic Science Ireland to support the necessary staff training for the taking of samples,” the prison service added. “It is expected that the taking of DNA samples from appropriate prisoners will recommence in September this year.”

The DNA Database System Oversight Committee has also highlighted a discrepancy in how members of the Garda in different parts of the country submit samples from their investigations to the DNA database, which is run by Forensic Science Ireland.

While there had been a “noteworthy” improvement within the Garda on the submission of samples, there remained “issues of concern in respect of a small number of divisions regarding their levels of non-submissions”, it said.

In reply to queries, Garda headquarters said the reference to “non-submission” in the report did not mean samples were never submitted but related instead to agreed timelines for their submission. It added that the discrepancies between Garda divisions were “marginal”.

“Due to the wide variation in crime volumes within Garda divisions, statistics are not directly comparable; busier and more highly populated divisions with higher crime rates will derive greater numbers of DNA samples,” it added.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times