Social workers have said that new legislation making it mandatory for those working with children to report abuse or children at risk of abuse is a welcome step, but said the service will be unable to cope with the inevitable increase in case referrals.

Chairwoman of the Irish Association of Social Workers Ineka Durville said the service is so over-stretched that social workers may not be able to respond to new cases.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, she said: "In any other jurisdiction where mandatory reporting was brought in, the numbers of referrals went up hugely."

"In a service that's already very over-loaded in Ireland, I'm not sure whether it'll actually be of benefit to children if that was to happen.

"We need to be aware of the fact that we have a very over-stretched system as it is, with people and children maybe not even getting a service, so it does need proper social work", she said.

Yesterday the Children First Bill was published, which will make it mandatory for certain professions and post-holders to report incidents of harm, and the risk of harm, to the Child and Family Agency.

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said this is the first time that key elements of Children First Guidelines will be put on a statutory footing since they were published in 1999.

Among those professionals and post-holders mandated to report harm, including abuse and neglect and even the risk of harm to children, are: Doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers, gardaí, psychologists, clergy, pre-school and childcare staff, and child protection officers of religious, sporting, cultural, recreational and educational organisations offering services to children.

The Bill also requires mandated persons to assist the agency in assessing a child protection risk.

Fianna Fáil has criticised the measures failure to include sanctions for those who refuse to report.

Its spokesperson for children Robert Troy said it represents a watering down of the robust legislation that was promised.