The Department of Justice has, for the first time, published information on unidentified remains provided by coroners across Ireland.
The database, launched today, provides details relating to 44 unidentified people, with the information made public and available online. Cases date as far back as 1968 and as recently as 2022, according to reports – with the Department expressing the hope that publishing the information will encourage people whose loved ones are missing to come forward.
Loved ones of missing people can now submit their own DNA through the Gardai, or they can gather DNA from the missing person from items including their clothing.
While DNA profiles for 28 unidentified remains are on the National DNA Database, the Department of Justice said it intended to exhume the graves of the remaining 16 unidentified remains in order to collect DNA.
Given the complexities associated with historical remains, this process is “expected to take some time to complete,” the Department said.
Any DNA profiles obtained will be compared with samples held on Ireland’s national DNA Database, the Department said. More than half of the unidentified remains were found in Dublin, Wexford, Cork, Clare, and Tipperary.
In a press release, Minister of State at the Department of Justice, James Browne, welcomed the publication of the data.
“The records contain clues: some have tattoos, it might be the clothing the person was wearing at the time, the locations of where remains were discovered. All of that is now going to be online from today,” Minister Browne said.
“We remember in particular the families and friends of missing people in Ireland and recognise the ongoing pain suffered and the lack of closure in the absence of the remains of their loved ones.”
“I know that the families of missing people have long called for the release of this information. We have listened to that request and I welcome the publication of that data today,” he said.
At present, there are approximately 856 unsolved missing persons cases live on the Garda Pulse system. The Department of Justice said that it was “acutely conscious” of the impact a person going missing has on family, friends, and loved ones, and stressed its commitment to doing everything in its power to ensure families have the “best chance” of having such cases resolved.
Twenty two of the 44 remains currently unidentified in Ireland are located in Munster. Minister Browne highlighted the fact many of the remains are located in coastal areas.
“If you look at the locations of a lot of the remains, they are on coastal areas as well so that might indicate some have either come from fishing accidents of they may have come from other jurisdictions,” he said.
The Department cited advancements in DNA profiling which have led to case breakthroughs in recent years, with the provision of DNA profiling to FSI by family members of a missing person having the power to assist in solving unidentified bodies and missing person cases.
With such advancements in mind, in December last year, Coroners were asked to return updated details of any unidentified remains for their coronial district as part of their annual statutory returns to the Minister for Justice. On Tuesday, the Department published the information returned to the Coroners – which said may assist in the identification of the remains, for the first time.
While the data being published today comprises the first full list of unidentified remains, additional cases may come to light, the Department said. As a result it intends to publish updates to the unidentified remains data on an annual basis. Minister Browne thanked Coroners across Ireland for their co-operation, adding that he hoped the release of the information would help identify and find more missing people.
“It is important to say that this will not have been an easy task for coroners, given many of these files pre-date digitisation and would have required a physical trawl. I thank the coroners for their co-operation, and hope that the release of this information may assist in the identification and location of missing family members,” he said.
“Importantly, there may be something contained in the information released today that triggers a memory or rings a bell with any one of us. If you or someone you know has any information that might assist in solving a missing person case, I would urge you to report it to An Garda Síochána. It’s never too late, and any information provided to An Garda Síochána may help those suffering the loss of their missing loved one to find some answers,” he said.
The Department of Justice said today that it is committed to working with all relevant State bodies to help more families find their missing relatives. To encourage more family members to participate in DNA testing, it is developing a targeted outreach programme, in partnership with An Garda Síochána and FSI.
Commenting, Detective Chief Superintendent Colm Noonan of An Garda Síochána said it recognised the “lasting sense of trauma” for loved ones of missing people.
“An Garda Síochána recognises the lasting sense of trauma for the families and friends of those who have gone missing. In 2018, An Garda Síochána commenced a substantial body of work in relation to unidentified human remains and this work continues to date,” Mr Noonan said.
“An Garda Síochána and Forensic Science Ireland have worked in partnership over the past number of years to deliver a DNA testing facility for the families of missing persons. This service was available to the families of missing persons at the National Missing Persons Day ceremony in December 2022 and is available for any family of missing persons to engage with An Garda Síochána,” Mr Noonan added.
Chris Enright, Director of Forensic Science Ireland (FSI) said that the organisation would continue to work closely with the Missing Persons Bureau of An Garda Síochána.
“In 2022 FSI assisted in 74 Missing Persons cases where DNA reference samples from family members were submitted to FSI for DNA profiling and uploaded to the National DNA Database. FSI assisted in the identification of 12 Missing Persons in 2022. Forensic Science Ireland remains committed to continuously developing the science and technology available in support of Missing Person investigations,” Mr Enright said on behalf of FSI.