A NEW DNA database is finally expected to become a major tool in the crime-fighting armoury of the gardai after being promised by successive governments for more than two decades.
The legislation, which was published yesterday by Justice Minister Alan Shatter, will boost the capacity of the gardai to link crimes and identify suspects for unsolved offences.
It will contain the profiles of all registered sex offenders, currently estimated to be 1,280.
DNA taken from crime scenes will be entered into the database and routinely checked against the stored profiles of serious criminals,
The Garda Commissioner will be given the power to authorise the retention of a person's profile on the database, where he is satisfied it is necessary, for up to six years.
The decision can be appealed but the profiles of convicted persons can be held indefinitely.
The legislation will also facilitate searches, under strict conditions, of other national DNA databases and allow the gardai to co-operate more effectively with other countries when investigating trans-national crimes.
Gardai will be allowed to take mouth swabs or hair follicles from convicted criminals and suspects to facilitate the database checks between profiles and crime scene samples.
Apart from sex offenders, most of the samples will be taken from suspects arrested in connection with serious offences, carrying sentences of at least five years.
Mr Shatter said he had already given the resources to the forensic science laboratory, based at Garda Headquarters in the Phoenix Park, to hire specialist staff and purchase sophisticated robotic sample handling instruments to deal with a large number of samples for the database.
He said he was determined the legislation would respect human rights and was satisfied he'd met those objectives.
He pointed out that the database would also be beneficial in establishing the innocence of persons wrongly suspected or convicted of offences and could be a big help in identifying missing and unknown persons.
Suspects under 14 or protected persons – those who, through a disability, do not have the capacity to understand the nature or effect of taking a sample, or cannot indicate their consent – cannot be included in the database.
However, they can be sampled to disprove their involvement in an offence.
Under the legislation, samples can be destroyed as soon as a profile has been generated, or within six months, whichever is the later.
Reasonable force can be used to take a sample, under the authorisation of an officer of at least superintendent rank.
Irish Council for Civil Liberties director Mark Kelly said the minister had gone to some lengths to take accounts of human rights concerns previously expressed.
But the council retained reservations about the extent to which samples or profiles could be sent to other states.
Prof David McConnell, from Trinity College Dublin, said the database was being described as the most important advancement in forensic science since fingerprinting was introduced in the late 19th Century.