Ireland apologises for burying transgender SA woman without informing her friends

Sylva Tukula.
Sylva Tukula.

Irish Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has apologised for the circumstances under which a South African transgender woman was buried in that country.

According to Irish radio station RTE, Sylva Tukula died on August 2 last year and, after efforts to contact her next of kin in South Africa failed, she was buried at the beginning of May. Her friends in the LGBTI community, who had been awaiting news about her burial, were not informed. 

She was reportedly a transgender woman in her 30s living in an all-male Direct Provision centre in Galway, a harbour city on Ireland's west coast. Her death was due to natural causes. Direct Provision is a system of asylum seeker accommodation used in the Republic of Ireland.

Flanagan offered his sympathies and condolences to Sylva's friends, reportedly saying what happened in relation to the burial of Tukula would not happen again. 

In a statement, the justice department said: "It is clear that there was a breakdown in communication in this particular case, which the department very much regrets. The department will take all necessary steps to ensure that this outcome is never repeated," according to GCN magazine. 

AMACH! LGBT+ wrote on its Facebook page: "Close friends and colleagues of Sylva were assured by both national and local state representatives that we would be notified once arrangements were made.

"Sadly, we were recently informed that our dear friend was buried by the state at the beginning of May.

"Members of our community and, especially those close to Sylva, were devastated to hear of her burial with no one close to her present. We had the understanding that we would be made aware of the funeral arrangements in advance so that our community, Sylva's Galway family, could be a part of this service, and to ensure that her life was celebrated on the day of her burial.

"We continually checked with government representatives for updates, while receiving no new information regarding any arrangements. The fact that Sylva's burial occurred in the absence of a ceremony, and without attendance, is deeply offensive to everyone close to Sylva, particularly members of the LGBT+ community who lived in the Great Western, who knew her from the Eglinton Direct Provision centres in Galway City and those that met her throughout her life in Galway." 

According to The Irish Times, the Department of Justice confirmed it had earlier been liaising with Tukula's friends to ensure her body was released to them. It says it found out what happened two weeks after her burial on May 9, which happened on the authority of the city coroner.

"We are left with more questions than answers as to how this has been allowed to occur," AMACH! LGBT+ said.

"Our dear friend Sylva was failed by the system in which she was entrapped, in many ways; yet at all times she bore these failings with grace, with dignity and with a warm smile.

"We strongly request this matter be investigated both to the fullest possible extent and in a timely manner, to establish how this system failed our friend Sylva this last, final time. In her honour we must ensure that this tragic outcome does not occur again, to anyone."

Galway city coroner Dr Ciarán Mac Loughlin, who signed off on the burial, reportedly said he was not informed that Tukula's friends were waiting to receive her body.

"Had we known anyone was interested we would have informed them but no one said anything to me or the bereavement officer in Galway," he told The Irish Times.

The Department of Justice reportedly said it would liaise with her friends and has offered to hold an "appropriate memorial" in Galway.

The South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation could not be reached for comment. 

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