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'A deeply sensitive issue': The government is preparing temporary mortuaries

A government spokesperson said it was being guided “by the need for compassion and care for families who will be affected”.

Deputy Assistant Secretary General at the Department of Taoiseach, Elizabeth Canavan.
Deputy Assistant Secretary General at the Department of Taoiseach, Elizabeth Canavan.
Image: Sam Boal

THE IRISH GOVERNMENT is working with other agencies to prepare for the possible need of temporary mortuary facilities. 

Elizabeth Canavan from the Department of the Taoiseach said that it was a “deeply sensitive issue”, and was part of preparing for the consequences of a surge in cases.

“We are as everyone now knows, in the midst of a very serious public health crisis,” the spokesperson said at a briefing at Government Buildings today.

“We are still largely in the preparation phase, getting the country ready, and putting the necessary infrastructure in place – in particular, the medical infrastructure to deal with the surge when it comes.

As part of this work, we are also preparing for the wider consequences of the surge, including the deeply sensitive issue of temporary mortuary facilities.
A group of senior officials from across government and relevant agencies is working together on this matter, and is guided and informed by the need for compassion and care for families who will be affected. 

The spokesperson added that more information would be made available when they had it, as was the case with other issues.

Ireland currently has 1,564 confirmed Covid-19 cases, out of 18,000 who have been tested. Nine people have died, and 39 people are in intensive care.

In other European countries, make-shift morgues had to be arranged as the number of cases and deaths surged: in Madrid, an ice rink in a shopping centre was used by Spanish authorities to cope with the surge in deaths.

HSE advice on funerals

The HSE had issued guidance on funerals previously, based on Ireland being in “a high containment phase, when only a limited number of cases have been identified in Ireland”.

For funeral services of those who were confirmed to have Covid-19 and died, this advice said that there should be a closed coffin service and only a small number of people should attend the funeral to pay their respects.

This HSE advice suggested the following measures for those who are close contacts of someone who had Covid-19 and died, and who wish to attend the funeral:

  • They should be advised to use their own private transport to travel to and from the venue and to avoid contact with people other than members of their own household
  • The funeral should be private and limited to those that the family identify as essential
  • Social distancing of at least 1m between identified groups should be recommended.

The Irish government has now changed Covid-19 measures and advised against gatherings of more than four people; it’s possible that this now also applies to funerals.

When TheJournal.ie asked the HSE to clarify this, it directed us to the general government advice page. Most listings on RIP.ie from this week include no service details with a direction that the funeral is ‘strictly private’. 

The HSE had clarified in its previous advice that the option of cremation is at the discretion of the family – but is not required for the purposes of infection prevention and control.

“The family should be advised that they may have a Memorial Service at a later date,” the HSE said, adding that it was a sensible measure not to have a condolence book.

Mourners are instead encouraged to express their condolences online at www.rip.ie, by social media or text, or by sending condolence or Mass cards by post.

Last week, a video went viral of a small town in Co Kerry mourning the loss of a member of the community after social distancing advice was issued. 

RTÉ video journalist Seán Mac an tSíthigh posted this video showing how the community in Ballyferriter held an outdoor wake for a woman who died, as no funeral service or wake could be held due to measures taken to stop the spread of Covid-19. 

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