High Court proceedings lodged against State by father of missing Limerick man

Denis Walsh with a photograph of his son, Denis, who went missing from his home in 1996.

REPRESENTATIVES of a Limerick man whose son’s partial remains were identified 25 years after they were recovered by Gardaí have issued legal proceedings against the State, the Garda Commissioner, the Minister for Justice, and Forensic Science Ireland over the handling of the 1996 missing persons case and subsequent identification of the human remains.

Denis Walsh Jnr (23) was reported missing by his family on March 9, 1996, however unbeknown to the Walsh family, who continued searching throughout Ireland and the UK for Denis Jnr, his unidentified partial remains were actually discovered by Gardaí 28 days after he went missing, when his remains washed up on Inis Mór.

Mr Walsh’s parents, Mary and Denis Walsh Snr, from Caherdavin, had handed out posters of their missing son in Garda stations in Galway the day before their son’s remains were discovered off Galway Bay. They were, however, unaware until February 2021 that remains had been found on the Aran island.

The partial remains were taken to the mainland and held in storage for 18 years at University College Hospital Galway before being buried in a communal grave in Galway in 2014.

Tissue samples taken from the remains in 2007 were sent to Forensic Science Ireland, the State’s forensic science laboratory, prior to the remains being interred, and were eventually confirmed in February 2021 as belonging to Denis Walsh Jnr.

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Mr Walsh’s parents provided Gardaí with their DNA via saliva swabs in February 2011.

Gardaí said a positive match had only been possible in February 2021 following advances in DNA technology.

In April 2021, Denis Walsh Jnr’s remains were exhumed and reinterred in the family’s burial plot in Limerick.

At Mr Walsh Jnr’s inquest in April 2021, Galway Coroner Dr Brian MacLoughlin noted that a review of unidentified remains stored in Galway in 2011 did not include a “look back at existing DNA profiles” held by the State, which he said was “an opportunity missed there to identify the remains”.

Dr MacLoughlin said that advances in DNA technology, coupled with additional resources at FSI, led to a list of historical DNA files being drawn up which subsequently led to Denis Walsh Jnr’s remains being identified.

Recording an open verdict, Dr MacLoughlin said the 25 years it took for the remains to be identified “compounded” the Walsh family’s trauma as they continued looking for Denis Jnr, unaware that the remains had been recovered in 1996.

A plenary summons hearing is expected to take place in the High Court before the end of this week requiring the four named defendants to appear in court themselves or by legal representation after the action was filed on July 19.

The summons document, seen by the Limerick Post, advises the above named defendants to “take notice that if you do not enter an appearance within that time the plaintiff may proceed in this action, and judgement may be given in your absence”.

Denis Walsh Snr’s general endorsement of claim is for “a declaration that the Defendants and each or either of them breached their respective duties (including Constitutional and/or statutory duties) of care owed to the Plaintiff and his deceased son, Denis junior”.

Mr Walsh, who is represented by Martin Tynan O’Donovan Solicitors, is also seeking an order from the court for a “public inquiry” into what Mr Walsh alleges is the State’s “failure” to identify Denis Walsh Jnr” when it was “in a position to do so”.

Mr Walsh is also seeking “damages for negligence and breach of duty (including breach of Constitutional and/or Statutory duty) on the part of the defendants and each and either of them, their respective servants and agents and/or for damages for reckless or negligent infliction of emotional distress”.

He has also sought “such further or other Order as to this Honourable Court seems fit and proper in circumstances where the defendants and each of them were responsible for an inordinate delay in identifying the remains of the plaintiff’s deceased son, Denis junior”.

The plaintiff is also seeking “interest pursuant to Statute” and “the costs of the proceedings” which “have been authorised by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board pursuant to Section 17 of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Acts, 2003 – 2019”.

When contacted Denis Walsh Sr, a spokesman for the Garda Commissioner, and a spokesman at the Department of Justice said they had no comment to make as matters were before the courts. A spokesman at the Office of the Attorney General replied that it “does not comment on ongoing litigation”.