‘Sticking plaster crisis’ at forensic body: Director

The Department of Justice is considering a number of options to bring to an end the crisis bedeviling the State’s forensic agency but no “specific arrangements” have yet been made.

The department has told the Irish Examiner that further legislation is being finalised to enable the long- awaited DNA database to “become operational as early as possible”.

Responding to comments by the head of Forensic Science Ireland last week, a department spokesman said it was pursuing the provision of a new facility and was hiring staff.

Forensic Science Ireland director Sheila Willis told the Oireachtas Justice Committee that her agency was in crisis and has lurched from one crisis to another for up to 20 years.

The body is part of the Department of Justice. It conducts forensic examinations on samples from crime scenes for Garda investigations and criminal prosecutions.

Dr Willis told the Justice Committee it had a nominal allocation of 96 staff, but that 80 were available this year due to retirements and resignations.

“When there is a crisis, like I consider we have now, it’s filled,” Dr Willis said. “We survive for a while and then there’s another crisis. There seems to be no systematic planning for an ongoing service, as I would consider necessary.”

On the construction of a modified office in Garda Headquarters at Phoenix Park, she said: “The difficulty with the building is similar to the staffing. We get by. There’s a sticking plaster and it falls again. The facilities are not suited to a modern-day laboratory.

“Various ministers for justice have openly acknowledged this fact in the last 15 years. It is frustrating for staff to manage that situation as well as they can and then be criticised by scientists paid for by the State working for the defence.”

Responding to a series of questions from the Irish Examiner, a Department of Justice spokesman said: “The very significant role played by Forensic Science Ireland in the criminal justice system is fully appreciated and especially the vital contribution it makes in providing evidence for the courts to the highest standards.”

He said the provision of a new facility was being actively pursued.

The spokesman said there were plans to provide additional resources and replace retirements in the service and noted that Dr Willis had expressed satisfaction with the measures.

He said recruitment campaigns for two deputy directors and for forensic scientists grade three entry level were conducted by the Public Appointments Service in late 2014.

“This means that there are panels from which posts at those levels can be filled,” he said. “At present, the filling of the posts at deputy director level is in train.”

He said this would be followed by offering positions to successful entry level candidates. In addition, the Forensic Science Ireland administrative staff will be augmented from competitions which will be conducted in the coming weeks.

Regarding the DNA database, the spokesman said: “The necessary facilities for the introduction of the new DNA database have been put in place and secondary legislation is being finalised to enable it to become operational as early as possible.”

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