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Justice Department to make 'formal requests' to coroners after woman who died in Direct Provision buried alone

Sylva Tukula was buried in May without ceremony or notice given to her friends.

Department of Justice & Equality
Department of Justice & Equality
Image: RollingNews.ie

THE DEPARTMENT OF Justice and Equality will make “formal requests” to county coroners in future after a woman who died in Direct Provision was buried alone earlier this year. 

Sylva Tukula was buried without ceremony or notice given to her friends after she died at the Great Western House Direct Provision centre in Galway in August 2018.

The Department’s Reception & Integration Agency (RIA) said it aimed to assist with Sylva’s burial following her death, and wanted to liaise with her friends through centre management and a local NGO.

It made it known to gardaí that her body should be released to friends for burial but nine months later, An Garda Síochána told the coroner they had exhausted all options to find her next of kin.

Gardaí did not manage to contact Sylva’s next of kin. The County Coroner then authorised the release of her remains for burial and neither the Gardaí nor Department Officials were privy to this information nor to the subsequent HSE-approved burial.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show that, on 26 and 27 March, Department officials wrote to a Galway garda sergeant on 26 and 27 March regarding the release of Ms Tukula’s remains. 

Officials wrote again on 4 April to the Galway superintendent and again on 21 April. 

Sylva Tukula was buried in a plot at Bohermore cemetery in Galway in late May, yet nobody she knew in Ireland was able to be present.

Galway County Coroner said that because “no formal request” was made for the release of Sylva’s remains, appropriate arrangements were made for her burial. 

Following her burial, questions were raised over a lack of transparency in deaths of people residing in Direct Provision centres. 

Minister of State for Equality, Immigration and Integration David Stanton TD expressed his “deepest sympathies and condolences to [Sylva's] friends and colleagues on their loss”. 

“It is a matter of profound regret to me, and to the Department, that her friends heard of her burial after the event,” Stanton said in June, in response to questions from Catherine Connolly, independent TD for Galway West. 

“This must have been deeply distressing to all involved and I offer my unreserved apology for the breakdown in communication, which led to this unintended event,” he said.

The Department of Justice & Equality has said it will work to ensure a case like Ms Tukula’s is “never repeated”. 

Measures to prevent this include implementing a “formal request framework” so that friends and loved ones are informed of burial through official channels.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson for the DOJ said the Department “has taken appropriate action to ensure that formal requests will be made by the Department to coroners in any such future cases. 

“It will then be possible to ensure that friends… who have expressed an interest, are properly informed of burial services.”

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