Inadequate and outdated facilities, as well as an upsurge in gangland crime, is putting forensic scientists’ abilities to process evidence under threat.
Stephen Clifford, a member of Impact trade union’s forensic science branch, told the union’s delegate conference that any delays experienced by him and his colleagues affected the progress of Garda investigations and could result in delays for court hearings.
“Forensic Science Ireland’s mission is to deliver, to the best international standards, expert opinion, advice, training, and research to support the criminal justice system,” said Mr Clifford.
“In order to do this, we have to ensure the forensic evidence we gather retains its integrity. Every piece of work produced is available for scrutiny by the courts and by defence scientists.”
He said their capacity to carry out their jobs is under threat: “The biggest challenge we face is that we are doing our work in a wholly inadequate environment.
“The old building is no longer suitable to accommodate the new technologies we are working with.
“The effect of the poor conditions is that extra staff and resources are taken up with logistics — trying to complete our work efficiently and accurately with inadequate facilities. The recent escalation in gangland crime adds a further strain with re-diversion of already stretched resources.”
Mr Clifford pointed out while the scientists in Ireland have to work in such poor conditions, their counterparts in the north and Scotland benefit from purpose-built laboratories.
Last month, the State’s forensic science chief described as ‘cynical’ the Government’s decision to delay funding for a much-needed forensic laboratory until 2019.
Sheila Willis had warned Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and secretary general Noel Waters in letters which were released under the Freedom of Information Act, that the lack of modern laboratories posed a risk of DNA contamination and required her to devote “more and more staff” to conduct checks and double-checks.
She said her “greatest fear” was if a “difficulty” emerged with a result that was put out by the laboratory.
“The complete effort and focus of everyone in the laboratory is that doesn’t happen. I’m happy that I can stand over the results that are generated, but in an overcrowded situation, there is a real risk of either a sample being mixed up or a sample from one side of a case being transferred to another.”
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