Exhumation of the remains of a deceased person
The removal of a dead body from the ground after it has been buried is known as exhumation. In Ireland, exhumation can only take place in certain circumstances. The person who has died must be treated with respect, and the privacy of their family and friends must be protected.
Examples of situations where exhumation may occur include:
- For family reasons (for example if the family of the deceased person want the remains to be moved to another burial ground)
- For public health reasons (for example if a cemetery is being moved)
- When the Minister for Justice orders an exhumation as part of a criminal investigation
The information on this page is about families arranging an exhumation for
the purpose of reburial elsewhere.
Getting an exhumation license
Exhumation licences are issued by your local authority. You should ask your local authority for an application form and return the completed form with the following:
- The fee (this varies from one local authority to another)
- A copy of the death certificate of the deceased person
The local authority may ask for further documentation if needed.
A local authority may refuse an exhumation licence because:
- The consent of the next of kin has not been given
- The burial plot cannot be identified
- The remains lie unidentified in a common plot (for example the burial plot of a religious order)
- Due respect to the person who died cannot be guaranteed
- The remains to be exhumed are located below a body that is not to be exhumed
- Public health and decency cannot be protected
- Ground conditions in the graveyard would make an exhumation difficult or unsafe
- Conditions attached to the exhumation licence cannot be complied with.
Arrangements for exhumation
After your local authority has granted an exhumation licence, the exhumation must take place within 12 months.
There must be an Environmental Health Officer (EHO) present at the exhumation. This is to ensure that all procedures are complied with and everyone present shows respect to the deceased person at all times. The EHO must be notified of the time, date and place of exhumation at least five working days before the exhumation.
Screens are placed around the existing grave to protect the exhumation from public view. If necessary, an area of the graveyard is cordoned off to ensure privacy. Workers must treat the neighbouring burial plots with care. Disinfectants and disposable protective clothing must be available to workers and disposed of safely after the exhumation.
The exhumed remains (including the existing casket) are placed in a new casket (the ‘shell’). Any other remains in the same burial plot that may have been disturbed during the exhumation are reburied with respect.
Role of the Environmental Health Officer
When the local authority receives your request for an exhumation, the Environmental Health Officer (EHO) inspects the grave of the deceased person and may ask the cemetery managers and the undertakers for further information as required.
- The EHO attends and supervises the exhumation to ensure that respect for the deceased person is maintained and that public health is protected
- If the remains are to be reburied in the same local authority area, the EHO also supervises the reburial
- If the remains are to be reburied elsewhere, the EHO will ensure that the appropriate local authority receives all the details it needs
Exhumations on sites owned by public bodies
The Institutional Burials Act 2022 (pdf) gives the Government the power to appoint a Director of Authorised Intervention to oversee the recovery of the remains of people who were buried on the grounds of institutions that were controlled or funded by the state. The Director will be assisted by an Advisory Board.
The purpose of the Act is to give the Director the authority to:
- Excavate the site
- Recover human remains
- Analyse the remains
- Identify the remains through DNA matching where possible
- Return the remains to family members or give the deceased persons a respectful burial in line with their family’s wishes
A Director of Authorised Intervention and Advisory Board to oversee the site at the Mother and Baby Institution in Tuam will be set up in the coming weeks.
Laws governing exhumations
The legislation governing exhumations in Ireland is Section 46 of the Local Government (Sanitary Services) Act 1948 as amended by Section 4(2) and the Second Schedule of the Local Government Act, 1994, as well as the Coroners (Amendment) Act, 1927.
Burials Act 2022 governs exhumations on the grounds of institutions that
were controlled or funded by the state.
For more information about arranging an exhumation contact your local authority .