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Defence Forces (Evidence) Bill 2019

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Defence Forces (Evidence) Bill 2019

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Snippet Contents:

I will begin by thanking the Oireachtas Library and Research Service for the work it has done on the Bill. Its digest is very useful for Opposition Deputies. It is a resource and facility we tend not to talk up but it is very useful.
There is a danger that many of the concerns I intend to express will lead to repetition because they are similar to those raised by Deputy Jack Chambers. I refer, for example, to the fact that the Minister of State, in his wisdom, has decided to prioritise this Bill over others that we believe are more important because of the crisis in the Defence Forces, particularly as it relates to the retention of personnel. If I were in the position of the Minister of State, this Bill might not necessarily have been my priority.
The Bill makes provision for members of the military police to take and use DNA samples. It also provides for the establishment, management and oversight of a DNA military police DNA database system operated by Forensic Science Ireland. It largely mirrors the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014, with necessary adjustments to accommodate the specific military context. That Act provided for the establishment of a DNA database for use by An Garda Síochána and replaced the arrangements for the taking of samples for forensic testing.
As Sinn Féin did with the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014, we support the spirit of the Defence Forces (Evidence) Bill 2019. We will not oppose it on Second Stage but, like all legislation, it needs detailed and robust examination on Committee Stage. It is possible that we will table amendments to strengthen the Bill. I will be interested to hear what the Minister of State has to say at the end of Second Stage.
The Bill also provides for: the collection of intimate and non-intimate samples; the establishment and content of a military police DNA database; and the retention of data. A central issue in the establishment of a DNA database involves the challenge of striking a balance between the rights of the individual to privacy, bodily integrity and the privilege against self-incrimination with wider societal interests in preventing disorder and crime. The use of DNA evidence also raises concerns about the laws of evidence, particularly the admissibility of such evidence and the value or weight that may be attached to it once admitted. There is also concern about the chain of evidence and where the evidence is taken abroad.
Sinn Féin believes the lawful and effective collection and use of forensic evidence from crime scenes, victims and suspects can be crucial for obtaining sound convictions that are not based on confession evidence alone, a practice that has led to widespread abuse of the right to due process.