BUDGET 2016: Troubled DNA database due in weeks with staff pledge

A DNA database — promised more than eight years ago —will be up and running in the coming weeks, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has said.

BUDGET 2016: Troubled DNA database due in weeks with staff pledge

The database will allow investigators to check DNA samples from crime scenes with samples from suspects and convicted criminals.

Gardaí and forensic scientists consider it an essential tool in modern policing and Ireland is thought to be the only country in the EU without a DNA database.

Efforts to set one up have been dogged with problems, and new legislation for it was enacted in June 2014.

Earlier this year, the head of Forensic Science Ireland (FSI) — the State’s laboratory — said extra staff was needed to run the database.

Sheila Willis said the forensic laboratory as a whole was “in crisis” due to persistent problems in filling staff vacancies and repeated failures to provide a modern facility.

Dr Willis said that while the laboratory had authorisation for 96 staff, they currently only had 77.

Ms Fitzgerald said €1.3m in extra funding for FSI would enable it to hire up to 25 extra staff, which would allow the DNA database to become operational in the next few weeks.

She said the six-year capital plan envisages that a new facility will be built.

Other areas for the justice budget include:

  • A 21% increase in funding for Garda victims of crime offices, bringing its budget to €1.5m. A further €500,000 will go to COSC, which targets domestic violence;
  • Grants for Community Alert and Crimestoppers doubles to almost €400,000;
  • €2.7m allocation for the full establishment of the policing authority and a €9m budget for the Garda ombudsman (same as 2015);
  • €1.2m in increased funding for the strengthened charities regulator;
  • €1.3m for additional staffing for the probation service, to allow it recruit staff and increase supervised community sanctions for offenders;
  • €1.6m increased funding for the Legal Aid Board, to hire more staff;
  • €1.15m in additional funding for the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, bringing its budget to €4.7m.

Ms Fitzgerald also said that a further €6.4m was being provided to the prison service, bringing its budget to €332m, while the courts service gets an extra €1.75m, bringing its budget to €109m.

She said some €2.75m was being allocated to various equality programmes, including a 33% increase in funding to the National Women’s Council, to €400,000.

The minister confirmed funding of €25m for the new Irish Refugee Protection Programme and the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner.

She said there was €130m in capital expenditure in the total justice budget in 2016.

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