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'An insensitivity at the heart of the State': Decision to bury woman who died in Direct Provision without telling friends criticised

Sylva Tukula died in Galway in August 2018.

Image: NiallÓTuathail/Twitter.com

THE MINISTER FOR Justice has been called on to clarify how a woman who lived and died in a Direct Provision centre was buried quietly by the State with no ceremony and without notification given to her loved ones. 

Sylva Tukula died at the Great Western House Direct Provision Centre in Galway in August 2018.

Although the Department of Justice & Equality made it known three times to gardaí that her body should be released to friends for burial, An Garda Síochána told the coroner nine months after her death that they had exhausted all options to find a next of kin.

She was then buried at a so-called ‘pauper’s funeral‘, and nobody she knew in Ireland was able to be present.

The events show “an insensitivity at the heart of the State”, according to Fianna Fáil justice spokesperson Jim O’ Callaghan.

He said Sylva’s burial “provides a very revealing account of the state’s attitude to people in Direct Provision”.

While efforts were made to trace her next of kin, “her friends and colleagues in Ireland should have been notified in advance of her burial so that they could pay their last respects,” O’ Callaghan told TheJournal.ie.

Unfortunately, the story reveals an insensitivity at the heart of the state in its dealings with people in Direct Provision.

“The State needs to recognise that people in Direct Provision are the same as Irish citizens in terms of their need for human interaction and support.”

Separately, Independent TD Mick Wallace has called for clarity from Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan surrounding the matter of Ms Tukula’s burial. 

He said, “The Minister needs to clarify why An Garda Síochána did not release her body for burial in response to requests and reminders by the RIA on 4 April 2019, 17 April 2019 and 3 May 2019.

“The Minister should also clarify why the coroner authorised for her to be buried in private with no ceremony, despite the same requests.”

The Movement for Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI) has since confirmed it is aware of the location of Ms Tukula’s grave and has said that the group may try to locate Ms Tukula’s relatives in her native South Africa.  

Sylva was a transgender woman in her 30s who was living at the all-male Great Western centre at the time of her death.

At the time of her passing it was reported that she had fallen ill suddenly and that a post-mortum would take place. 

In a statement on its Facebook page yesterday, local LGBT group Amach, members of which had known Sylva since June 2017, said that her friends and colleagues were assured by national and local State representatives following her death that they would be notified once burial arrangements were made.

“Sadly, we were recently informed that our dear friend was buried by the State at the beginning of May,” the statement said.  

The Justice Department has said “it regrets the unintended obvious distress caused to Ms Tukula’s friends and colleagues upon hearing of her burial after the event”.

In an apology issued yesterday, it said: ”Despite the best efforts of the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) of the Department, communication of the release of Ms. Tukula’s remains was only confirmed to RIA after the event, by which time she had unfortunately already been buried. The Department will liaise with her friends and colleagues in relation to offering to hold an appropriate memorial event in the locality, which they can attend.”

In a statement, An Garda Sióchana said, “This sudden death incident was investigated by Gardaí in Galway. Extensive enquiries were conducted by Gardaí. A death certificate was then issued by the Coroner, Dr. MacLoughlin. This Office is not aware of when the burial took place, this was most likely arranged by the Department of Justice.”

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