Building of forensic lab could begin earlier

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald is exploring funding options which could bring forward the construction of a new facility for the State’s forensic science service.

Building of forensic lab could begin earlier

A Department of Justice briefing document, published over the weekend, said Forensic Science Ireland was in “critical need” of a new laboratory. It said the continuing absence of proper laboratory facilities could “undermine” court proceedings and create “immense” reputational damage.

Under current capital plans, construction is not due to begin until 2019, with an estimated three-year completion date.

The director of FSI, Dr Sheila Willis, has previously expressed her “extreme concern” at the delay, saying it was “not tenable” to wait until 2022.

The briefing document said Ms Fitzgerald, the justice minister, had written to the minister for public expenditure and reform on April 27 seeking funding to start building in early 2017.

Asked yesterday whether there had been a reply, a department spokesman said they received a response on May 23.

“The response outlined possible avenues which could be explored further as part of the budgetary process and the department is presently exploring these options,” he said.

The department briefing pointed out that plans for the new laboratory are ready to proceed as soon as funding is made available. It said the risks of not proceeding with construction of new facilities include the following:

  • More and more time and effort will have to be expended to ensure there is no contamination with the laboratory;
  • The potential of such contamination to undermine court proceedings, at large expense, and cause reputational damage, is immense;
  • A continuing inability to implement the exchange of DNA data in breach of EU obligations in the fight against serious crime and terrorism;
  • A continuing inability to provide a full service to the Garda Síochána in the investigation of crime;
  • An increasing inability to exploit the full potential of the DNA database, which began last November.

The document said the service provided by FSI, previously known as the Forensic Science Laboratory, was “crucial” in the investigation and prosecution of crime.

It said its current facilities, in an office block shared with the Garda Technical Bureau, were “completely inadequate”. It said this was particularly so in light of the establishment and rapid growth of the DNA database and the need to fulfil EU obligations on information sharing.

“FSI is in critical need of new facilities, in the shape of a new purpose-built laboratory,” the document said.

The briefing document said Ireland cannot meet its EU obligations under the Prum decision regarding co-operation against organised crime and terrorism.

This decision introduced procedures for the exchange of DNA analysis files, fingerprint data, and vehicle registration data.

“Implementation of Prum was meant to have taken place by August 2011,” said the document. “Ireland is not yet connected to any other MS [member state] in relation to any of these types of data exchange.”

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