Sex offenders will be required to register DNA profiles for new database

Thursday 12 September 2013 12.33
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The database will be located in the Forensic Science Laboratory in Dublin
The database will be located in the Forensic Science Laboratory in Dublin
It will have the capacity to link crimes and identify suspects in relation to unsolved crimes
It will have the capacity to link crimes and identify suspects in relation to unsolved crimes

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has announced the publication of a new bill for the establishment of a DNA database.

Criminals convicted of serious crimes and suspects detained in connection with serious criminal investigations are to be compelled under the proposed legislation to provide DNA for the database.

The bill also requires sex offenders to have their DNA profiles registered.

The database will have the capacity to link crimes, identify suspects in relation to unsolved crimes and help find or identify missing persons.

DNA from crime scenes will be entered in the database and routinely checked against the stored DNA profiles relating to suspects and offenders.

The bill also gives power to the Garda Commissioner to authorise the retention of a person's profile on the DNA database where he is satisfied this is necessary, in some cases for up to six years.

However, that decision can be appealed, but the profiles of those convicted can be retained indefinitely.

The database's management and operation is subject to independent oversight by a committee, which will include a representative of the Data Protection Commissioner and will be chaired by a Circuit or High Court judge.

Mr Shatter has said the enactment of the legislation will fulfil a key Programme for Government commitment.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Mr Shatter said the database would make an important contribution in the fight against crime.

He said: "There are 18 of our EU state colleagues that have DNA databases and there are over 40 right across the world. They have a vital contribution to make in the investigation of crime.

"We have resourced the forensic science laboratory, so that all of the infrastructure that they require for the DNA database to be put in place and be up and running as soon as the bill is enacted is now there.

"And we have what I could describe as the necessary state-of-the-art equipment that they hadn't had provided to them. All of this was put in place in 2012."

Mr Shatter said that where an investigation was concluded with no proceedings taken against the individual, then DNA would be retained for a period of 12 months.

DNA would be removed from the system within three months of that deadline.

'Most important advancement since fingerprinting'

Agencies working with victims of sexual violence have welcomed the proposed legislation.

The Rape Crisis Network of Ireland said the measures would increase the chances of perpetrators being brought to justice.

Meanwhile CARI, which provides therapy to child victims of sexual assault, said it would allow gardaí to potentially solve multiple crimes involving repeat offenders.

One in Four said that while DNA databases have raised concerns for civil liberties in other jurisdictions, "this legislation introduces robust safeguards to protect against abuses of stored DNA".

Executive director Maeve Lewis added: "If convicted sex offenders do not re-offend, they have nothing to fear from this legislation."

Professor David McConnell from the Genetics Department at Trinity College Dublin has said the establishment of the database will allow significant evidence to be used in the investigation of serious crimes.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Seán O'Rourke, Prof McConnell said: "The simple fact of the matter is it is going to make it much easier to investigate cases.

"This is the most significant evidence that can be produced in many cases.

"It is being described as the most important advancement in forensic science since fingerprinting was introduced in the late 19th Century.

"It has revolutionised forensic science around the world. It saves money, saves gardaí time, saves lab time, saves court time."

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties said that DNA databases are valuable crime fighting weapons, provided appropriate privacy safeguards are included.

ICCL Director Mark Kelly said: "The appropriate use of profiles obtained from DNA samples can enable law enforcement officials more rapidly to eliminate innocent people from their inquiries."

However, he said the council has reservations about the extent to which samples or DNA profiles may be transmitted to other states, including outside the European Union.

Mr Kelly said profiles should not be transmitted to states that "cannot guarantee that they will be protected by appropriate privacy safeguards".

The ICCL also suggests that the bill be reviewed by the Irish Human Rights Commission.