Contingency plans for mass fatalities have been in place for the past five years after the Government signed a €545,000 contract for temporary mortuary facilities.
The contract, with UK company De Boer, is for the provision of facilities to hold 100 bodies at a time, extendible if necessary, and was signed for a five-year period in 2015.
The Government has said it is making plans for temporary mortuaries in the event a surge in coronavirus cases leads to a shortage of storage space for bodies.
Senior Department of the Taoiseach official Liz Canavan said the “deeply sensitive issue” was being worked on.
It came after the Irish Independent reported undertakers had raised concerns storage space could come under pressure if there was a significant increase in virus-related deaths.
But it has emerged arrangements were put in place in May 2015 to have a supplier on retainer to call on if the need arose.
The contract said the company should be able to deploy, erect and make operational a structure anywhere in Ireland with 48 hours notice.
It was to include a 1500sqm mortuary, extendible chilled body storage area of 1,500sqm and 2,000sqm of support and administration space, and it was to be capable of sustaining round-the-clock activity for weeks or possibly months.
It was envisaged the facilities would only be requested in the event of a major incident or accident. The type of incident was unspecified but the move was recommended in the 2006 Framework for Major Emergency Management which followed a review of emergency plans in the wake of 9/11. Procurement was put on hold during the recession.
The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government confirmed the contract was still in place with De Boer, a company which deploys temporary structures to war zones, disasters and major social and sporting events worldwide.
But the Government would not provide detail of any discussions with the company or what plans it had in mind to deal with the current crisis.
Ms Canavan, assistant secretary-general at the Department of the Taoiseach, said: “We are still largely in the preparation phase, getting the country ready and putting the necessary infrastructure in place, in particular the medical infrastructure to deal with the surge when it comes.
“As part of this work we are also preparing for the wider consequences of the surge, including the deeply sensitive issue of temporary mortuary facilities.”
She said the senior officials working on the issue would be “guided and informed by need for compassion and care for families who will be affected”.