AN AVERAGE OF one person is reported missing every hour of every day in Ireland.
Each case tells a story.
Sometimes they point to a bigger trend: more than 50 Chinese people remain listed as missing in Ireland as of this month, for example.
Other times, they shine a light on individual tragedies: the average length of time for a person to be officially listed as missing by gardaí is over ten years – and the longest case dates back to 1967.
Often, of course, the matter is resolved within hours or days – after the person in question is located by authorities or family members.
In many other cases, however, the investigation remains open for years – leaving heartbroken families in a state of limbo, not knowing whether their loved one is alive or dead: hoping for the best, but fearing the worst.
Missing in Ireland – what do we know?
We’ve been examining the stats behind the thousands of missing persons reports made in Ireland in recent decades – and they make for some fascinating viewing.
Over 9,000 reports to gardaí were made last year. But how many of those cases are solved?
Which part of Ireland has the highest rate of missing persons? How do we compare to our nearneighbours in the UK? And what do we know about those people who have been missing for years?
In total, there were 9,179 missing reports in Ireland last year. Some 80% (7,395) of these were regarded as high risk cases, which are defined as:
Reports which require immediate action on the assumption that the missing person is at serious risk, such as child abduction or possible suicide threats.
731 were “medium risk”, which means “persons who may have disappeared of their own volition and are assumed not to be at any immediate risk”.
And 1,053 were categorised as low risk, that is “where there is no apparent threat of danger to the missing person or the public, such as a person over 18 who has decided to start a new life”.
While the overall number of reports has risen sharply in the last decade, there has been a steady decline in the number of unsolved cases.
In 2004, the first year of An Garda Síochána’s current system for recording and solving missing persons cases, there were 5,060 cases, 83 of which were unsolved heading into 2005.
By contrast, 2014 saw 9,179 missing person reports (up 81% from a decade earlier) but only 31 were unsolved going into this year, and 14 of those cases have since been closed.
The overall trend is shown clearly in the graph above.
One thing we don’t know is the number of missing persons who are found dead each year, since An Garda Síochána’s Missing Persons Bureau does not systematically record this information.
Ten years, nine months, two weeks and five days.
That’s the average length of time a person listed by An Garda Síochána remains categorised as ‘missing’.
The Garda website names 214 people in total whose whereabouts have been unknown for anything between two weeks and 48 years (the latter figure relates to the case of Dublin man Noel Hardy, who was last seen on 17 September 1967).
The average age at which these individuals go missing is 22.
More than 60% are under 18, and almost one in five are between 18 and 30.
Some 70% of those listed as missing by An Garda Síochána are men or boys.
Another clear trend among those missing for longer periods of time is that a disproportionate number of them are foreign nationals – more than half, in fact.
Some of these 124 confirmed non-Irish citizens were reported missing from Direct Provision centres and care facilities.
For example, over just nine months in 2009, missing persons reports were filed for a staggering 23 teenagers from the same part of the world – China.
Some 52 Chinese nationals are still missing in Ireland, as of this month – as are nine citizens of Nigeria and Romania, eight from Moldova, seven from Somalia, and 39 from 24 other countries.
Which counties have the most missing people?
The prevalence of missing persons varies widely across Ireland.
There is some correlation, of course, between population levels and reports, but it’s far from straightforward.
In the six years between 2009 and 2014, for example, the Garda Division of Galway had 1,670 reports, for a population of around 251,000 (based on the 2011 Census).
Louth, however, with half that population (126,000), had 2,157 missing persons reports.
Taking into account population, the capital’s north inner city (Dublin North-Central) had the highest prevalence of missing persons, with 34.9 per 1,000 residents from 2009-2014.
That division was followed by Dublin North, Louth, Dublin South-Central and Cork City.
Roscommon/Longford had the lowest prevalence of missing persons reports, with 4.2 per 1,000 residents, followed by Mayo and Donegal.
The area of the country with the highest overall number of missing persons was Dublin North, with 6,330 reports, followed by Cork City, Dublin West, Dublin North-Central and Limerick.
Roscommon/Longford saw 402 reports between 2009 and 2014, almost half the total in Sligo/Leitrim, the next lowest.
Clare and Mayo had 703 reports each, and Cork West had 782.
To download a spreadsheet with a geographic breakdown of missing person reports over the last six years, click here.
We know the number of people being reported missing is increasing. And we know the number of unsolved cases is dropping. But does Ireland have a high or low overall number of reports?
Our best points of comparison are our nearest neighbours – across the border in Northern Ireland, and across the water in Great Britain.
Although each country has different police forces, and therefore different ways of counting and processing missing persons reports, figures from the PSNI and UK Missing Persons Bureau provide some interesting comparisons.
As shown in the chart above, Ireland has a significantly lower prevalence of missing persons than Great Britain, even accounting for our smaller population.
From 2011-2013, our rate of missing person reports was less than half that of England and Wales, and just one-third that of Scotland.
Across the border, statistics are thin on the ground. The most recent full-year figures available from the PSNI are from 2004-2008.
According to these, the Republic had between twice and three times the rate of missing persons as Northern Ireland during that period.
The country will mark national Missing Person’s Day this Wednesday: friends and family members of people who have been missing for years – in some cases, decades – will attend a ceremony at Farmleigh in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, along with justice minister Frances Fitzgerald and Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan.
As part of our latest series at TheJournal.ie we’ll be examining the personal stories of the people involved in rescue and recovery crews – who are at the frontline of searches, when a person is reported missing.
We’ll also be hearing from the specialist investigators called in when a missing person case turns into something more sinister. And we’ll be profiling some of the cases still unsolved after years of investigations, appeals and – for the loved ones left behind – heartbreak and disappointment.
The national Missing Persons Helpline can be reached on 1890 442 552 or through this website.