Dublin: Gardai Renew Call For DNA Database

22 Aug

GARDA staff associations have made fresh demands for the establishment of a DNA database — almost 10 years since it was first promised by government.

Ireland is now the only country in the European Union, apart from Malta, which does not have a DNA database, which is widely used in criminal investigations and missing persons cases.

The Government’s commitment to the database hangs in the balance pending the outcome of cabinet discussions on the budget estimates, which will begin next month.

“We have been highlighting the need for a DNA database for 10 years now and we still do not have one, despite repeated promises from various governments,” said Damian McCarthy, president of the Garda Representative Association (GRA).

“We are fully aware of the financial situation the country is in, but the database will save money by speeding up investigations, by identifying suspects and eliminating suspects, thereby saving garda time and resources.”

He added: “In the modern world, this is becoming an essential tool of policing and we need to keep up to date.”

A spokesman for the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors said: “We deplore the lack of action to bring in a DNA database, which has been acknowledged by various experts and ministers for justice as a great asset in fighting crime.”

In the current edition of the Garda Review, the journal of the GRA, Dr Maureen Smyth, director of DNA at the Forensic Science Laboratory, said DNA databases were “the norm in the developed world as a tool in the investigation of crime”.

She said the situation in Ireland left the country “in the company of Malta as a European Union state without legislation in place”.

She said Ireland was not in a position to comply with a EU council decision in 2007, which decreed that all EU states should be exchanging DNA profiles on an automatic basis by August 2011.

Mr McCarthy said the GRA first called for a DNA database in May 2001.

At a Garda graduation ceremony in November 2002, then justice minister Michael McDowell announced plans to set up such a database.

In 2003, the Law Reform Commission was asked by the government to investigate the implications of a DNA database. It reported in 2005 and recommended a database be set up.

By the end of 2006, plans were published and budgets earmarked to establish the database and build a new Forensic Science Laboratory, which would operate the database.

Repeated promises never materialised and in January 2010, the last government published the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Bill 2010.

The cost of the database and the new laboratory has been put at €40 million.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter has said he wants to proceed with the laboratory and the database, but provisions have not been made for them and this would be decided by the Cabinet in discussing the estimates.

NEWS UPDATE: ADDITION: IRISH TIMES COMMENT:

THERE ARE times when a prison sentence is the correct response to breaches of the law and there are times when it is not. Such penal sanction can transform the futures of young men and rather than act as a deterrent, set them firmly on destructive careers of crime.

That negative outcome is almost guaranteed when prisons become grossly overcrowded, are drug-infused and lack basic educational, psychiatric and rehabilitation services.

It would wrong to lay the blame for overcrowded jails and a dysfunctional prison system on the judiciary. The main culprits are the politicians and successive governments that made getting tough on crime a major issue in their election campaigns.

They recognised the appeal of harsh retribution to the electorate and they milked it for every vote, without providing for the consequences of recidivism and prison overcrowding. In the course of those campaigns, they passed laws requiring the imposition of mandatory sentences for certain offences and they pressurised the judiciary to fall into step with their populist approach. The outcome is all too clear today.

“Degrading, inhumane and unsafe” is the verdict passed on the Irish prison system by Europe’s leading human rights organisation. If that doesn’t make law-abiding citizens ashamed, it should.

Governments have been consistently warned they were failing in their duty of care to young offenders and that, rather than helping the situation and controlling crime levels, their policies were making prisons a finishing school for young criminals. Since those stark warnings were issued, the situation has worsened.

Drug gangs and their culture have become more embedded in the system and stabbings, slashings and assaults can occur on a daily basis.

In the past decade, the prison population has increased by two-thirds, many times the rise in the crime rate. Even then, thousands of minor offenders have been turned away because of overcrowding.

The prison system, its staff and its various services simply cannot cope.There is a cheaper, more effective, and humane alternative.

Rather than rely on prison sentences as the prime deterrent, when the approach has clearly failed, politicians and the judiciary should switch their attention to probation and community service orders.

Monitoring young offenders in their localities and ensuring they carry out useful community work directed by the courts costs the State between 10 and 30 per cent of the prison alternative.

That is a good deal for taxpayers. The approach has been shown to be effective in tackling crime and it frees young men of the stigma of a criminal conviction.

Despite that and prison overcrowding, the number of such court orders fell last year. Friction between government and the judiciary has been dragging on for years over issues of sentencing and bail.

A law has now been passed that requires judges to consider imposing community service orders as an alternative to jail sentences of 12 months or less.

It would be invidious if an instinctive reaction by some judges caused them to stick to traditional sentencing practices.

(Editor’s comment: Community sanction is by far the best way to deal with most offenders – most offences being of a relatively minor nature – Imprisonment should be reserved for serious offenders, those who pose a serious threat to public safety and those offenders who fail to respond in any meaningful way to REASONABLE COMMUNITY SANCTIONS).

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