An opinion poll suggests that half the country's adults have experienced the abuse of vulnerable adults either through suffering abuse themselves or seeing somebody close to them abused.

The independent National Safeguarding Committee, which commissioned the research, has called for stronger safeguarding laws and for the Government to progress the establishment of a service, already provided for in 2015 legislation, to support adults whose capacity for making decisions is in question.

The state-wide opinion poll, conducted by Red C last December, interviewed by phone a sample of 1,004 adults who were demographically representative of the rest of the Republic's over 18's.

Although 61% felt vulnerable adults are well protected here, 38% said they are badly treated.

Red C said this and other data suggests the public perceives a problem around safeguarding people who have a limited capacity for self-protection.

There was uncertainty around what constitutes psychological and financial abuse and one-in-three people did not know clearly that they should report concerns about vulnerable adult abuse to a health care professional or to an HSE Safeguarding and Protection Team.

The pollsters said that suggests more public education is required.

Half the respondents claimed to have experienced abuse directly or indirectly, with emotional abuse mentioned by one in three of them. 

The same number witnessed or suspected physical abuse, while the incidence was highest in private dwellings.

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.