Since the establishment of Ireland’s DNA database in 2015, submitted samples have helped identify a total of 28 people. It is critical for relatives of missing persons to come forward and give a DNA sample. This only involves a non-invasive swab taken from the mouth, said a Department of Justice spokesperson. The DNA profile generated from the sample can then be compared to the profiles generated from missing persons or unidentified bodies.

“First generation relatives – parents, children and siblings of the deceased – are those which are the most informative.”

A challenge facing the work of Forensic Science Ireland is to allay concerns regarding the information contained in a DNA profile and the use to which that information would be put. The organisation spends a significant amount of time trying to establish trust through engagement with families.

To date, they have DNA samples from over 350 families and this figure is growing every week.

Brother identified after 36 years

Seán Whooley was only able to have the body of his younger brother Conor identified because their mother provided a DNA sample. His brother had been missing for 36 years and Mr Whooley is now backing a Welsh police appeal for relatives of missing people to provide DNA samples.

Although the identification process took 2 years, the Wicklow family have now been able to visit Conor’s grave for the first time.

“This event would never have happened if North Wales Police did not have a DNA sample to match one they already had of Conor”, Mr Whooley told the Irish Examiner.

“For the past 36 years we have been desperate to find out what happened to him. Not knowing how he ended up was a weight on all of us.”

He added: “I would urge anybody who is the relative of a missing person to go to their nearest Garda station or get in touch with the Garda Missing Persons Bureau and give DNA.”

Conor vanished from Dublin in August 1983. Although his body was found on a beach in Anglesey, north Wales, the following month, it was not identified and he was buried in a grave in the Menai Bridge Cemetery.

In 2013, they exhumed the body to get a DNA sample, which was eventually matched with his mother’s DNA sample.

The discovery was made possible as a result of publicity in Ireland and collaboration between gardaí, Forensic Science Ireland and North Wales Police.

Unidentified bodies can wash up on the north Wales coast after entering the water in Ireland. Forensic Science Ireland has been successful in helping identify three of these bodies so far. But there are still another eight who need to be identified. They are the subject of investigations as part of the gardaí’s Operation Runabay here, with which Forensic Science Ireland staff are working closely, and North Wales Police’s Operation Orchid.

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