11 April, 2017:

Half of all Irish adults say they have experienced the abuse of vulnerable adults either through being abused themselves or seeing somebody close to them abused, according to the results of new research being published today.

The research, commissioned from Red C by the National Safeguarding Committee, shows widespread public concern that many vulnerable adults are open to and are experiencing physical, emotional, psychological and financial abuse.

Among the research findings are:

  • Physical abuse of vulnerable adults has been witnessed/suspected by 1 in 3 adults, very often in the home.
  • Over 1 in 3 has experienced emotional abuse.
  • Almost 2 in 5 (38%) think vulnerable adults are badly treated. One in three believes vulnerable adult abuse to be widespread.
  • There is significant public concern about the need to safeguard those who are limited in their ability to protect themselves.
  • There is a lack of clarity over where to report vulnerable adult maltreatment, particularly among the young

Adults who may be vulnerable are those who may be restricted in their capacity to guard themselves against harm or exploitation, possibly as a result of illness, dementia, mental health problems, physical disability or intellectual disability.

According to the NSC Chair Patricia Rickard Clarke: “The members of this Committee have come together with one objective in mind: To ensure that adults who may be vulnerable are safeguarded and that there is a zero tolerance of abuse.  These research findings indicate a very worrying prevalence of vulnerable adult abuse, uncertainty over what constitutes psychological and financial abuse, and a lack of knowledge of what to do when you become aware of the abuse of vulnerable adults.

“These survey results will provide a baseline against which progress in developing public awareness and changing attitudes and behaviour can be measured. We are now planning a public awareness campaign on the issue of abuse of vulnerable adults, and we would urge the Government to introduce legislation which would provide for independent advocacy on behalf of vulnerable adults and a National Safeguarding Authority with a dedicated budget.”

The Minister of State at the Departments of Social Protection, Justice & Equality and Health Mr Finian McGrath said:  “The research commissioned by the National Safeguarding Committee suggests a startling prevalence of abuse of vulnerable adults, as well as a lack of clarity of how and where to report such abuse when it is witnessed.  Society and Government have a duty of care towards all of its citizens, particularly those who are more vulnerable.  Measures to tackle this issue are not the preserve of any one Government Department.  This is a cross-departmental issue and I intend to work across departments to agree measures to protect our vulnerable adults from abuse.”

Any vulnerable adult can be subject to abuse, Ms Rickard Clarke said. Recent cases of historical practices and institutional abuse in Ireland have led to significant public concern about safeguarding our most vulnerable citizens.

New law and public information campaign planned to tackle problem

She said:  “In addition to strengthening the legislative framework for safeguarding, the National Safeguarding Committee wants to see progress towards the establishment of the Decision Support Service within the Mental Health Commission. This will provide support to adults whose capacity for making decisions is in question.  It must be given adequate resources.

“This Service is provided for in the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act 2015 which we would like to see fully commenced as soon as possible.  This legislation aims to prevent exploitation of this vulnerable group of adults and to ensure that their will and preferences are respected in areas such as health, personal welfare, property and financial matters.”

For further information please contact:

Murray Consultants                              01 4980300 / Mark Brennock                                     087 2335923

Note to Editor

  1. The National Safeguarding Committee (NSC) is a multi-agency and inter-sectoral body with an independent chair. It was established by the HSE (but independent of it) in December 2014 in recognition of the fact that safeguarding vulnerable people from abuse is a matter that cannot be addressed by any one agency working in isolation, but rather by a number of agencies and individuals working collaboratively with a common goal. The NSC brings together key players in public services, legal and financial services, the health and social care professions, regulatory authorities and NGOs representing older people, people with disabilities and carers.  All have come together with one objective in mind – to ensure that adults who may be vulnerable are safeguarded.

The NSC will lead on encouraging an organisational and societal culture which promotes the rights of adults who may be vulnerable and it insists on zero tolerance for abuse.  It will provide strategic guidance to the Government, the HSE, and other national stakeholders.  Since establishment the NSC has developed a Strategic Plan 2017 – 2021 which was launched on December 20th2016.

  1. The nationwide public opinion survey on abuse of vulnerable persons was commissioned by the National Safeguarding Committee in October 2016 and undertaken in December 2016. It was undertaken to provide a baseline against which progress in developing public awareness and changing attitudes and behaviour can be measured.


  1. The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 was signed by the President on 30 December 2015. The Act reforms Ireland’s capacity legislation which has been in place since the 19th century. It establishes a modern statutory framework to support decision-making by adults who have difficulty in making decisions without help. The Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act 2015 provides for the establishment of the Decision Support Service within the Mental Health Commission to support decision-making by and for adults with capacity difficulties and to regulate individuals who are interacting with people who have capacity difficulties. At present, a limited number of provisions of the Act have been commenced, including provisions to allow for the recruitment of the Director of the Decision Support Service. Following detailed scoping and when the operational processes required for the Decision Support Service are in place, the Mental Health Commission will be enabled to liaise with the relevant Government Departments in relation to the provisions of the Act that will need to be commenced to make the Decision Support Service operational. Currently, it is anticipated further commencement will occur during the course of 2017.


  1. The members of the Committee are:


Pat McLoughlin                                CEO Alzheimers Society of Ireland

Ms Susan Kent                                        Department of Health

Ms Miriam Finnegan                             Department of Social Protection

Det Sgt Jennifer Molony and

Inspector John Lynch                            An Garda Siochana

Mr Brian O’Donnell                                CEO National Federation of Voluntary Bodies

Mr Mark Blake Knox                               Not-For-Profit Organisation

Ms Joan O’Connor                                   Policy and Research Officer

Disability Federation of  Ireland

Mr Phelim Quinn                                     CEO Health Information and Quality Authority

Mr Eamon Timmins                                 CEO Age Action

Ms Louise O’Mahony                             Banking and Payment Federation Ireland

Ms Mary Keane                                        Deputy Director General The Law Society

Ms Maureen Kavanagh                          CEO Active Retirement Ireland

Ms Catherine Cox                                    Head of Communications Family Carers Ireland

Ms Siobhan Nunn                                    HSE Principal Social Worker from Safeguarding and

Protection Team

Mr Paddy Connolly                                  CEO Inclusion Ireland

Dr David Robinson                                   Consultant Representation RCPI

Mr Michael Fitzgerald                             HSE Social Care Management

Mr Pat Carey                                            COSC

Mr Mervyn Taylor                                    Manager SAGE

Mr Brendan O’Shea                                 Irish College of General Practitioners

Ms Patricia Gilheaney                              CEO, Mental Health Commission

Ms Ann Marie O’Connor                         Business Manager, MABS

Mr Tom Fitzpatrick                                   Chartered Accountants of Ireland

Ms Phil Ni Sheaghdha                              ICTU

Dr Cathal Morgan                                     HSE Social Care Division

Mr Tim Hanly                                             Manager HSE National Safeguarding Officer

Ms Marguerite Clancy                              HSE Senior Research and Information Officer

Dr Verena Keane                                       Faculty of Learning Disability, College of Psychiatrists

Dr Maria Moran                                        Faculty of Old Age Psychiatry, College of Psychiatrists

Patricia Rickard-Clarke                          Independent Chair