I welcome the opportunity to raise this issue and I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, for coming to the House to reply to it. Recent reports suggest that all is not well in the Office of the State Pathologist. I do not wish to refer the House to the intricacies of recent resignations but I would like to obtain some clarification from the Minister of State in respect of a number of issues pertaining to the office. In particular, I ask her to indicate that the office is working well and efficiently and that there is public confidence in it. I am of the view that it is important that we should consider the workload of the office and the fact that there are three State pathologists for the entire country and that the pattern of forensic evidence gathering has changed in recent years. Forensic evidence is vitally important and is used regularly in the criminal courts. Having regard to the fact that 200 or more relevant cases are dealt with on an annual basis, it is important that there be strong public confidence in the office. Post mortem examinations need to be carried out in emergency situations, suddenly and often without notice. It is essential, therefore, that there be optimal response times and that officials from the Office of the State Pathologist can get to far-flung parts of the island at very short notice. It is important that the regime in this regard be maintained.
I am somewhat concerned about the lack of service in cases in which there may not be an element of suspected foul play but the families of deceased persons experience extreme suffering and trauma. For example, a body might be discovered in my constituency on a Friday and there might not be anybody available to carry out an examination. In a very sad recent case, the body of a deceased person was not released to the family until four days after the death had occurred. That is simply not good enough.
If there are any doubts or issues in respect of the Office of the State Pathologist, I ask that the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, authorise a cross-departmental review. These are medico-legal issues. The office comes under the auspices of the Department of Justice and Equality but it also deals with matters relating to the Department of Health. By definition, the State pathologists are doctors and members of the medical profession. It is absolutely essential that both Departments be involved in the running of the office. I hope the issues surrounding the Office of the State Pathologist that are currently in the public domain will be dealt with in a way that ensures there is confidence in the system and that the office is operating satisfactorily and has access to adequate resources. I ask the Minister of State to address these issues in her reply.