Almost 70,000 DNA samples have been uploaded to a national DNA database established five-and-a-half years ago to help solve crimes and identify culprits, new figures reveal.
Data released to this newspaper shows that more than 67,000 DNA profiles have been uploaded to the database since November 2015.
In a statement to the Sunday Independent, the Department of Justice said: “From the commencement date of the DNA database legislation in November 2015 to 24 May, 2021, there were 67,342 DNA profiles uploaded on to the database in line with the legislation. Over the same time period, 25,304 DNA profiles were removed (destruction). Currently there are 42,038 profiles on the database of which 38,990 are suspect/convicted offender reference samples. DNA profiles are added to and removed from the database on an ongoing basis in accordance with the legislation.”
The Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014 provided for the establishment of a DNA Database System for use by An Garda Síochána.
Any prisoner serving a sentence of five years or more is required by law to provide a sample. Those arrested for crimes punishable with a jail term of five years or more must also provide samples to gardaí on the proviso these must be destroyed within a few years.
All sex offenders — both living in the community and imprisoned — are required to provide a sample. There are between 400 and 450 sex offenders in Irish jails at any time and a further 1,500 such offenders in the community and listed on the sex offenders register.
All rapists and paedophiles, who number around 2,000, are legally obliged to provide a DNA sample to be stored on the database indefinitely.
Not all prisoners agree to provide a DNA sample, and prison officers are powerless to force them to do so — unlike An Garda Síochána, which has powers to compel suspects.
The operation of the crime-fighting database has also come under the spotlight after it emerged that almost 4,500 DNA samples were “lost”. Following a major internal investigation led by assistant commissioner John O’Driscoll, the force said last year that it identified all but 489 missing samples.
Of those, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said there were 234 individuals that the force did not hold samples on, which it should have.
Appearing before the Policing Authority last year, Mr Harris was asked if there was a risk that court cases could be affected by the issue.
He replied: “In effect you’re talking about 234 individuals that we don’t hold samples on. If they have not become a suspect in an investigation in some other manner, through other evidence or intelligence, then there is a risk that those 234 may have engaged in crimes for which we have an unidentified DNA sample within the forensic science laboratories.
I think it’s a small risk, given the DNA is very rarely the sole method of detection.”