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Call for reform of 'inadequate' coroner system after families experience long delays in investigations

A new report has criticised the current system.

The Coroner's Court in Dublin
The Coroner's Court in Dublin
Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

A NEW REPORT has suggested that Ireland’s coroner’s system is “inadequate and can compound and even aggravate the suffering of loved ones”.

The report, which was commissioned by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), says that successive governments have failed to implement much-needed reforms to the system which were proposed more than two decades ago.

It says that bulk of coronial work is carried out by part-time coroners who are dependent on limited administration staff and garda investigators.

“Consequently, burdened by unacceptable levels of delay, it is unable to function with thoroughness and compassion,” it reads.

The research was headed by Queen’s University Professor Phil Scraton, who also lead research for the Hillsborough Independent Panel in the UK.

He said that one consistent finding during the group’s work on this report were the negative experiences of the families of people whose deaths were investigated by coroners.

“They faced long, unexplained delays in accessing the truth. They reported being marginalised and excluded from the process,” Scraton said.

“They weren’t given the information they required, and often they weren’t made to feel welcome.

“Despite experiencing the death of a loved one, their participation in the process was at best peripheral, at worst discouraged. It was particularly distressing at a time of already great loss and had lasting consequences for their health and well-being.”

The report contains 51 recommendations that would reform the system for investigating the deaths of individuals.

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They include ensuring that those who are bereaved are at the centre of the investigative process, professionalising the coronial service while ensuring its independence from gardaí, and avoiding what it describes as “unacceptable delays” in the system.

ICCL Executive Director Liam Herrick urged the government to act quickly in light of the report to reform the current system in order to protect the rights of bereaved families.

Sinn Féin justice spokesperson Martin Kenny was among those who welcomed the report, which he described as a “damning indictment” of the current system.

“Bereaved families deserve appropriate support and access to justice, instead this report warns that their trauma is being compounded by this inadequate system,” he said.

“Many of the issues highlighted in this report were first exposed in the Department of Justice review 21 years ago. It is inexcusable that two decades later families are experiencing the same failings.”

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