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€100k cost of Coroner should not be incurred by Council, argues local politician

Cllr James Kelly Coroner

A campaign to get the Department of Justice to foot the bill and fund the County Coroner’s offices across the country has been initiated in Laois. Heading up the initiative is Cllr James Kelly.

While acknowledging the important function of the coroner’s office, Cllr Kelly believes that the cost should not fall on the local authority but rather with the Department of Justice.

Back in November Cllr Kelly requested that the Department of Justice and Equality provide the funding to facilitate the operating expenses of the County Morgue and Coroner. His request was dispatched to the Department.

“My reason for this notice of motion is that Laois County Council approved a Budget for 2019 which included fees and expenses for the Coroner’s Office for €100k, which I don’t agree with.

“I acknowledge the important and sensitive roles of the Coroner in this county, especially when tragedy strikes with the sudden and unexplained death of a loved one.

“But a recent Government report states that ‘the Department of Justice and Equality has primary responsibility for policy and legislation with regard to County Coroners.

“We are paying €100,000 for the coroner’s service, I think this is the responsibility of the Department and we could put these funds to another use as there are so many demands for services,” explained Cllr Kelly.

He had reason to believe that the Department were not being consistent as the Dublin City Council’s coroner’s fees were met by the Department, so why should Laois be any different?

This week Cllr Kelly got an answer from the Department of Justice, but not the one he would have liked.

Administrative Officer, Irene Delaney told the Council meeting that the Department had not accepted Cllr Kelly’s proposal regarding the operational expenses of the Coroner. The response actually came from the local Minister, Charlie Flanagan.

“I fully acknowledge the contribution that Laois County Council makes, both financial and otherwise, to the provision of the coroner service in the county. The responsibility for the coroner has been a local authority function since the introduction of the modern coroner in 1846,” stated the reply from Justice Minister Flanagan.

Modern coroner and 1846 and the €100k cost to the Council doesn’t add up for Cllr Kelly who sort of sees it as dead money and undeterred by the reply from Minister Flanagan he intends to persist with his campaign for change, to save the funds for other purposes.

Minister Flanagan further noted in his reply: “Any further change to the arrangements for coroners will be considered in due course, but will require a decision of Government and the enactment of new legislation.

“Therefore, I regret that I am not in a position to accede to the request contained in the Notice of Motion. My current priority is the enactment of the Coroners (Amendment) Bill 2018.”

Cllr Kelly protests that Laois and other counties should not be treated any differently in this regard than Dublin City Council, who have the Department of Justice paying for their coroner service.

He estimates that this is adding up to an imposition on Councils across the country of over €3 million annually.

“I propose that we contact all other local authorities to inform them of this and what’s going on and to enlist their support for the changes we are putting forward,” persisted Cllr Kelly.

His proposal was seconded by Cllr John Joe Fennelly. So the issue of who pays for the coroner is not dead and buried yet.

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John Whelan has been a journalist, commentator, columnist, political analyst, campaigner, politician and publisher ever since he was 17. Having been Editor of the Leinster Express, Offaly Express and the Leinster Leader he has also contributed extensively on a number of issues to all of the country's flagship titles and programmes including the Irish Press, The Irish Independent, the Star, the Sunday Independent, the Sunday Business Post, The Sunday Times and Prime Time. He is founder of Communicate Ireland a PR, public affairs, event management and media services company. He is the author of the popular camping blog, Vanhalla - Camper Heaven.