Please see below my commencement motion and the response from the Minister:
Senator Catherine Noone
The need for the Minister for Justice and Equality to outline the position regarding the provision of a purpose built forensic science laboratory on the previously identified site in Kildare following her correspondence to the Justice Committee in respect of this.
On behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, I want to thank the Senator for raising this important matter. Forensic Science Ireland is one of the most important bodies for which the Minister is responsible. It celebrates its 40th anniversary this year and during its existence the Forensic Science Laboratory has played a major part in some of the most significant criminal trials and investigations in the history of the State.
Working closely with the Garda Síochána, Forensic Science Ireland plays a crucial role in the investigation of crime. The vision of Forensic Science Ireland is “Science Supporting Justice”, and that sums up very concisely the unique and vital role this body plays in the criminal justice system and in providing evidence to the courts.
The staff of Forensic Science Ireland is mainly composed of civil servants who are highly-qualified in various aspects of forensic science, including in relation to the analysis of drugs and of course DNA analysis. In the recent Budget the pay element of Forensic Science Ireland’s budget was increased by €1.3 million, which will allow for the recruitment of extra specialist staff to meet the demands of an increasing, and increasingly diverse, workload, including in relation to the DNA Database.
Forensic Science Ireland will play a crucial part in relation to the operation of the DNA Database. This database, which is a long-overdue tool in our fight against crime, was provided for in the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014. The secondary legislation and practical preparations required to operate the database are almost complete and the Minister intends to launch it very shortly.
The Senator raises the important point about the need for a modern, fit for purpose laboratory to replace the current facilities. There is no question that such a facility is required. Plans were first drawn up by the Office of Public Works to develop state of the art facilities for Forensic Science Ireland on a site in Backweston in County Kildare during 2009. Unfortunately the very difficult economic circumstances suffered by the State in recent years meant it was not possible to proceed with the project.
The Minister was very happy, therefore, that in the recently-announced capital expenditure programme an amount of money was allocated to this end. I cannot reveal the exact amount for familiar reasons of commercial sensitivity, given that we need to ensure value-for-money in all public building projects, but I can assure Senator Noone it is sufficient to ensure a completely new state-of-the-art facility is built.
While the recently-published Capital Programme does not envisaged building, beginning until 2019, the Minister wishes to make clear that the projected start-date will remain under review given the importance of this project and the pressing need for these new facilities. The Minister wishes me to advise the Senator that if an opportunity arises to bring forward the start date of construction at Backweston, then this opportunity will be pursued.