Press Release

Minister Martin further clarifies ‘Medical Certificates of Cause of Death’ issue

The Minister for Health & Children, Mr Micheál Martin, T.D., this evening (10 January 2001) further clarified the position regarding the Medical Certificates in question. Medical Certificates of the Cause of Death (MCCD) are utilised by the District Registrars to register a death. If, for example, a person dies in hospital under the care of a consultant, he/she or a member of his/her team is obliged to furnish the person who will be attending at the office of the registrar to register the death (the qualified informant) with a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death. The cause of death as set out in the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death is the cause of death which will be registered under the Births and Deaths Registration Act, 1880. The MCCD is then forwarded to the Central Statistics Office (CSO) for the extraction and compilation of vital statistics under relevant legislation governing the CSO. In due course the CSO returns the MCCDs to the GRO for storage and subsequent disposal.

As it is an offence under Section 2 (5) of the Vital Statistics, Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1952 to disclose the MCCDs and as all relevant information has been extracted, they were not stored with future retrieval in mind. This, combined with the sheer volume of such documentation handled by the GRO resulted, for purely practical purposes, in the disposal of older certificates and the non-systemised storage of others.

MCCDs for 1989 to 1996 are currently being scanned and indexed (with the exception of certificates for 1993 which were destroyed by flood) to faciltate speedy and accurate retrieval and to aid the inquiry. The GRO has disposed of all MCCDs prior to 1989. This was normal practice as all relevant information had been extracted as required. MCCDs for the period 1997 to date are in the possession of the CSO.

The Department of Health and Children has received 17 requests for the release of MCCDs in recent months. Having obtained the advice of the Attorney General, the Minister has given his consent under section 7 of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act, 1972 to the release of MCCDs where available in keeping with his policy of ensuring every possible support and co-operation is given to parents and relatives seeking information.

While the Minister appreciates and understands the importance of MCCDs to individual parents seeking clarification/confirmation of cause of death he is of the view that the absence of some such certificates will not seriously impair the work of the inquiry into post mortem organ retention. While this is, of course, a matter for the inquiry itself to determine the Minister wishes to emphasise that no relevant records have been disposed of by the GRO since he announced his intention to establish the Inquiry in February 2000.

MCCDs relating to 1993 were stored in Custom House basement with other old records. Sometime around 1998, it was discovered that boxes containing records relating to 1993 were badly damaged as a result of flooding and were disposed of. The Minister confirmed that he had been informed that no such records pertaining to the GRO were ever stored in O’Connell Bridge House as alleged in some media reports earlier today.