Data collected from the State's coroners shows the remains of 27 people are unidentified.

The new information emerged from data submitted by coroners to the Department of Justice after it sought details of all human remains within their districts dating back 70 years.

The first-of-its-kind probe by the department found there are 13 unidentified whole remains and 14 partial remains in Ireland; seven are male, three are female and the rest are unidentified.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said that "all coroners were written to last year and they were asked to provide information on any unidentified remains that they have within their districts".

She said: "The intention now is that this information will be passed by my office to An Garda Síochána and hopefully will allow and support the missing persons unit with Forensic Science Ireland to identify more missing individuals and to hopefully help more families."

The National Missing Persons Helpline, which represents families of missing people, said it hopes the figure of 27 unidentified remains is accurate as there are over 800 people recorded as missing in Ireland.

"With over 800 long-term missing in this country anything that helps to bring some relief to the families is to be welcomed," said its chairperson Dermot Browne.

Mr Browne added that information relating to unidentified remains should not be held by local coroners but in one centralised location.

Minister McEntee said information on unidentified remains will be placed on a central database updated annually by coroners from their districts.

She said: "We are now putting this on a more structured, on a more central database, so every year coroners will provide information where there are any unidentified remains within their districts.

"The database will be there for An Garda Síochána to access. This for the first time would allow An Garda Síochána to tap into this central database and to potentially engage where they might not have done previously where there may be some information of interest to them. It is really important that all of this information is accessible to An Garda Síochána."

Professor Denis Cusack, a forensic and legal medical specialist and the former Co Kildare Coroner, said the database would help families of missing people find closure.

"Knowing the number of unidentified remains in the country is important from a number of perspectives. First, particularly where people have been missing in recent years and decades, it is for the families. If they can find out where their loved one is - it's sad news, but it certainly brings a certain finality.

"Also it allows us to look at unsolved mysteries of missing persons – particularly where there may have been foul play or the involvement of another person in bringing about that death," he said.

Minister McEntee said DNA tests on the 27 unidentified remains is a matter for gardaí and Forensic Science Ireland.

Database 'would've helped enormously'

Paul Walsh, the brother of a Limerick man who went missing in 1996, has said a central database on unidentified people could have assisted in tracing him.

A body recovered off the coast of the Aran Islands later that year was stored for some time in University Hospital Galway before being buried in a the city,

After being identified through DNA testing, Denis was returned to his family for burial last year, 25 years after he went missing.

Mr Walsh said: "If a database like this had been in place back in the 1990s, it would have helped enormously."

Speaking to RTÉ News, he said he "can't say for definite that it would have solved the case because DNA [testing] didn't exist back then."

However, he said "there would at least have been on one side an unidentified body and on the other side there was a missing person".

"There could be something to identify them. There wouldn't have been the DNA science back then but there would have been articles of clothing, a ring or some form of identification," Mr Walsh said.

He said his family welcome the establishment of the central database and he said they "hope it can help other families."

"The database is only as good as the data that goes into it and how it's used.

"It would need for the gardaí to be regularly accessing it when they do have a missing person or an unidentified body," he added.

Additional reporting Fergal O'Brien