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Delays at forensic lab mean rape victims have to wait longer for cases to progress

€10 million has been taken from the National Forensic Science Laboratory to pay for the National Children’s Hospital.

Image: Shutterstock/AshTproductions

THERE IS A significant delay in processing forensic evidence at Ireland’s lab responsible for the task – meaning that it is taking longer for cases involving rape and sexual assault to be progressed.

As things stand, forensic evidence is sent to Forensics Science Ireland (FSI) which is based in the Phoenix Park. 

Details provided to TheJournal.ie by the FSI show how at “the end of 2018 there was a backlog of approximately 70 categorised cases where the examination kit has been processed and the case is awaiting further work to complete the case”.

The FSI said that there was an increase of 15% in demand for DNA casework over the course of 2018.

A spokesman said: “FSI has a strategy to add resources to address this growing demand. In addition, significant extra search room and analysis capacity is being incorporated into FSI’s new building, due to commence construction this summer.”

The entire forensics unit was supposed to be moved to a new, larger facility in Kildare which would have been able to take on a much bigger workload. However, setbacks in the tendering process mean that delays are now a common occurrence in FSI.

The net effect is that the processing of rape and sexual assault cases is consistently slowing. It is now not unusual for the victim of a rape to wait over a year to determine if their case is going to progress.

In recent days, it also emerged that €10 million has been taken from National Forensic Science Laboratory to pay for the National Children’s Hospital – meaning it is expected to take even longer to get completed.

Noeline Blackwell of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) said it was apparent the current lab was not fit for purpose.

She told TheJournal.ie: “Delays are something which we hear about all the time. A lot of the time evidence is gathered through the Sexual Assault and Treatment Units and then sent to be forensically examined. 

“What we hear anecdotally from our service users is that the victims will hear that the forensic evidence is with the FSI lab to be examined and that the results haven’t come back. 

“I think there is evidence to show that the forensic science lab in the Phoenix Park is too small for purpose and did not have capacity to do what it is intended to. 

“It deals with drugs seizures, armed robberies, robberies, it has to forensically analyse everything.

Depending on urgency, rape victims would have to take their place in the queue. 

“I’m not blaming them in the slightest. They just don’t have the capacity to deal with everything in front of them.”

Fianna Fáíl TD for Kildare North, James Lawless, accused the Government of kicking the can down the road when it comes to the new lab. 

He said: “I had concerns about the timeframe for the National Forensic Science Laboratory, which was set to open in Celbridge, for some time. 

“The Government were slow and lacklustre in getting this project off the ground and the reason they gave for the deferral in January was as a result of the complexity of the project. Now they are using cynical language such as ‘rescheduling’ and ‘re-profiling’ of funds to explain why funding will be diverted from the project to plug the massive gap caused by the National Children’s Hospital overspend.

“This project has been a long time coming and Forensic Science Ireland has said time and again that their existing facility is unsuitable for modern science practices. We are way behind the curve and getting further and further away from having this much-needed state of the art laboratory.”

FSI was contacted for comment.

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