Garda told State lab lacks resources for full DNA analysis
Ireland’s DNA database contains 10,000 profiles and is rising by 1,000 each month
Forensic Science Ireland has told the Garda that, due to budget and staffing constraints, the laboratory has to limit what items it will examine for DNA samples.
The Garda have been told that full DNA tests of crime scenes will not be carried out in the case of “volume crimes”, such as burglary or car theft, due to limited resources.
Ireland’s first DNA database was established a year ago and has been widely praised for linking crimes to offenders on more than 600 occasions, including in 350 burglaries. The database now contains some 10,000 profiles from suspects, convicted criminals and sex offenders – a figure that is increasing by about 1,000 every month.
However, the State’s DNA testing body, Forensic Science Ireland (FSI), has told the Garda that, due to budget and staffing constraints, the laboratory has to limit what items it will examine for DNA samples.
FSI said that items from crime scenes would be examined only when there was “a reasonable expectation of generating a usable DNA profile”.
In a memo circulated to gardaí and seen by The Irish Times, the lab said it would not process crime scene samples taken from areas the offender may have touched. These include samples taken from steering wheels, shop tills, light switches, door handles, safes and other objects not brought to the scene by a suspect.
Items which are most likely to produce a definitive DNA profile of a suspect will still be examined. These include blood swabs taken at the scene, cigarette butts, discarded clothing such as balaclavas or gloves, and tools brought to the scene such as crowbars.
The memo, issued by FSI director of DNA Dr Geraldine O’Donnell, states the limited testing rules apply to all “volume crimes”. It gives as examples, burglary, car theft and property damage.
The lab will continue to carry out more extensive DNA testing for serious crimes such as murder, rape and armed robbery. In these cases it will attempt to extract DNA profiles from all items submitted by gardaí if it thinks there is any chance it could contain a suspect’s DNA.
“This includes touch DNA samples (eg driver’s controls, knives, ligatures, cable ties, rolls of tape, wires in an explosive device, guns and ammunition),” the memo states.
The memo concluded by assuring gardaí the FSI would continue to use its “limited resources” to support investigations.
Speaking to The Irish Times, Dr O’Donnell confirmed the policy and said it was down to “prioritising resources”.
“There’s a range of case types coming in, from murders and sexual assaults right through to the volume crime. And we have to run a policy where we concentrate on samples that are most likely to give results.”
Dr O’Donnell said the policy was also based on how likely a sample was to contain a usable DNA profile from a suspect. “In 90 per cent of the cases you get profiles that are so complex you just can’t make anything out of them. You can imagine with things like a shop till or door handle, multiple people are going to be touching those and the chances of being able to pick the perpetrator out of those samples is so low we can’t justify testing them.
“In an area of competing demands, we have to be led by sound policies,” she added.