Grieving relatives face added trauma due to shortage of staff at Cork Coroners' Court

TDs renew call for extra staff to be hired as Andrew Gearns' family are told inquest into his death last year may not occur until 2022
Grieving relatives face added trauma due to shortage of staff at Cork Coroners' Court

'It's the first thing I think about in the morning and the last thing that I think about at night,' says Evan Gearns, right, about the delayed inquest into the 2020 death of his brother Andrew, left, pictured together in happier times. 

Cork Coroners’ Court has only two staff despite handling 25% of the volume of cases of Dublin Coroners’ Court, which has 24.

The ongoing lack of resources and personnel, compounded by Covid, is adding to the trauma and frustration of grieving relatives.

One Cork family says subsequent delays in holding an inquest hearing is stopping them from getting closure.

Andrew Gearns took his life in Cork Prison in October last year but, while the inquest has been opened officially, a date for a hearing has not yet been set.

Inquest into Andrew Gearns' death in 2020 may not happen until next year

A letter to the family from the Cork Coroner’s office says a date may not be available until 2022 owing to “Covid-19 restrictions and a large backlog of cases”.

Andrew’s brother Evan says the family has been through enough pain.

“For me, I don’t want my mother to go through it again,” said Evan Gearns. "He died in Cork Prison, so they will bring up all of the details about Andrew’s death. I don’t want that to be two or three years down the line. 

It’s a struggle because everything is a fight in this country. It’s the first thing I think about in the morning and last thing that I think about at night. I’m sick of hearing Covid is the reason. I don’t know how they’ve got away with having so little resources in Cork Coroner’s Court for so long. They can’t say it’s Covid at this stage — this is about under-resourcing.

Evan has not been able to collect his brother’s death certificate, as he believes it would be incomplete without the inquest, which would normally be heard within six months to a year.

“If you tell people six to 12 months, they should be allowed to think that,” said Mr Gearns. “There are other families in this boat. When the time comes for the inquest, I will say that the system needs to be changed.”

TD: 'They cannot keep up. How could they possibly keep up?'

Cork Sinn Féin TDs Thomas Gould and Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire raised the issue earlier this month.

Mr Ó Laoghaire said he was not asking the department to tell coroners to speed up their process, but was asking for more staff.

“The department appoints the coroners,” he said: 

There are two staff in Cork, 24 in Dublin — and the former has a quarter of the cases the latter has. They cannot keep up. How could they possibly keep up? 

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said: “Most coroners hold inquests in local courthouses and, as a result of Covid-19 restrictions, inquests have unfortunately been severely curtailed. 

“The department is aware that the delay in holding inquests is causing distress for families and officials from the department are liaising with the Courts Service on this matter.”

- If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, please click here for a list of support services.

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