Dermot Ahern: bill last year

MORE than a decade after the government announced plans to introduce a DNA database to help in the fight against crime, the long-awaited legislation has still not been implemented.

Senior gardaí said they were dismayed over government "inaction" on the issue and claimed Ireland lagged far behind its European counterparts in this regard. "Not only does it impact on how we do our jobs, it's actually quite embarrassing dealing with other European police forces when we have to admit we don't have this basic crime-fighting tool. We are supposed to be a modern police force," said a source.

Last January, justice minister Dermot Ahern published a bill allowing for the establishment of a national DNA database. A spokeswoman for the department said the legislation was awaiting committee stage.

The proposed bill – which will most likely be amended if there is a change in government this year, delaying it further – provides for taking DNA samples that can be used in criminal trials. Under the proposals, everyone who is arrested will be required to give a DNA sample, from which a DNA profile will be taken which can be matched with DNA samples taken from crime scenes. The analysis of this material may also link the person to other offences where he or she was previously involved but no link had previously come to light.

Ahern's proposed bill also makes provision for co-operation with other EU member states in sharing DNA database information. The proposed legislation provides that only those convicted of serious offences will have their DNA materials held indefinitely.

In February 2000, then justice minister John O'Donoghue said the establishment of a DNA database was being examined. Successive justice ministers – including former Michael McDowell and Brian Lenihan – also spoke about rolling out the technology.

Fine Gael's justice spokesman Alan Shatter said it was "almost beyond belief" that more than a decade had passed and this important piece of legislation had still not been passed into law.

"It is completely outrageous," he said. "This important issue hasn't been prioritised and extraordinary lethargy has been displayed. The legislation is on the back burner. If there was any sense of urgency about it, this legislation could have been implemented last Easter considering it was published last January."