Lack of DNA database lets criminals off hook, say top investigators
MAJOR criminal investigations, including the nationwide crackdown on burglars, are being hampered by the failure of successive governments to establish a DNA database.
Senior investigators say that databases in other countries -- such as the UK -- have resulted in significant falls in crime.
But Ireland is still awaiting the necessary legislation to introduce the database that was first mooted 13 years ago.
Investigators believe that this would be a key tool against burglars as they tend to be prolific offenders and their DNA profiles would boost the odds of prosecuting the culprits.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter told the Irish Independent last night that he intends to publish legislation later this year. But he admitted that it would not be fully operational for up to 18 months.
This means that when Ireland assumes the presidency of the EU in January it will be the only member state without DNA database legislation. This is despite signing an EU agreement last August that all states should be able to share fingerprint records and DNA profiles.
In the UK, using a database has resulted in a 50pc hit rate -- one out of every two samples on the databanks sees information regarding suspects being provided to the police.
"In other European jurisdictions the database is now a second-generation tool but here the concept has not been developed," one investigator said.
"The advantages for a criminal investigation are obvious in that DNA extracted from crime scenes can save valuable time in either speedily associating or eliminating suspects."
Proposals to set up a database here first emerged in 1999. The legislation was promised the following year but was then forwarded in 2004 to the Law Reform Commission for consideration.
The commission came out in favour of a database the following year but proposals were not brought before the then Cabinet until 2007. Legal "obstacles" were then cited as the reason for further delays before a pledge was given to publish a bill by the end of 2008.
However, while issues over privacy have also been raised by various interest groups down the years, it is unclear why there has been such a lengthy wait to bring in such a system.
Mr Shatter included it in the Coalition's legislative programme. He said last night that it would make provision for the taking of samples from:
* Offenders jailed for serious offences.
* Those listed on the sex offenders list.
* Some former offenders who are no longer subject to sentence.
Their DNA profiles will be retained on the database indefinitely and are intended to provide "an invaluable source of intelligence" to the gardai.
Mr Shatter said the Forensic Evidence and DNA Database Bill would also allow for the taking of samples for the databank from suspects detained in garda custody in connection with serious offences.
It is expected that profiling will apply to investigations into crimes such as murder, rape, offences against the State, drugs crime, burglary, theft and criminal assault or assault causing harm -- but not to offences carrying sentences of less than five years.