The Government's Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon, has called for the introduction of a ban on alcohol sponsorship of sporting events.

Dr Shannon was speaking as he presented his annual report to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children.

He said the prevalence of alcohol abuse was one of the most striking features of all the cases he had reviewed involving children who had died in the care of the State.

In many cases involving the deaths of children in care, he said, alcohol abuse had not been identified as a risk factor.

He said these children had been left in highly vulnerable environments because social workers had failed to act.

Dr Shannon said that historically agencies have consistently failed to work together to protect children.

Labour TD Ciara Conway directed criticism towards her Government colleagues for their stance in tackling alcohol abuse.

Speaking at the committee, she said: "Alcohol is by far the most serious social issue facing Ireland on so many fronts, be it health, be in family relationships, be it mental well-being, be it physical well-being.

"It costs the Exchequer a huge amount of money each year, in the billions, and yet we have Cabinet ministers who are finding it difficult to stand up to sporting organisations in relation to alcohol.”

The drinks industry spends an estimated €20m on the sponsorship of sporting events each year.

There have been numerous calls from healthcare professionals for the Government to ban the practice.

Last year, a Department of Health steering group said the advertising and promotion of alcohol through sport should be phased out over four years.

However, some ministers argue that alternative funding for sporting organisations must be secured before any ban is introduced.

Dr Shannon also called on the Department of the Environment to undertake a study into the various approaches taken to tackle the problem of homelessness in other jurisdictions.

He said Australia had introduced a system to help the homeless find accommodation and gain access to support services.

Dr Shannon also said the Government should legislate to make cyber-bullying a criminal offence, and should introduce laws to protect children's privacy before the courts.

He said that while it was sometimes necessary to disclose during court proceedings confidential records relating to a child, legislation was needed to ensure that such disclosures do not have a chilling effect on the reporting of abuse.