A national authority is required to keep adults safe from harm, according to a new report commissioned by Safeguarding Ireland.

The report - 'Identifying Risks - Sharing Responsibilities: The Case for a Comprehensive Approach to Safeguarding Vulnerable Adults' - said a dedicated authority would help prevent and reduce abuse, neglect and coercive control.

More than 10,000 cases of alleged abuse are reported to the Health Service Executive Safeguarding and Protection Teams each year. However, the actual figure, including what is not reported, or reported to other authorities, is much higher.

The high level of under-reporting is reflected in RED C research published in 2020 which found that 12% of all adults reported had experienced adult abuse in the previous six months and a third of adults reported ever having experienced abuse.

International research suggests that up to 10% of adults may experience financial abuse, which is understood to be particularly prone to under-reporting.

The study recommended that public bodies hold a statutory responsibility to prevent all forms of adult abuse, including sharing relevant data between agencies where known risks arise.

It said greater professional and public awareness is required around supporting decision-making - empowering people with reduced capacity, using independent advocacy, identifying risk and when and how to report concerns.

The Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act is due to be commenced this summer.

The legislation will bring an end to the wardship system in Ireland and replace it with a new legal framework for supported decision-making for adults who need assistance and support to maximise their ability to make decisions about themselves.

A public awareness campaign is expected to highlight how it will facilitate adults with capacity challenges.

Safeguarding Ireland Chairperson Patricia Rickard-Clarke said it is clear from the research that there is a significant lack of scope and integration in Ireland's current safeguarding response.

"Our current measures are too narrowly focused on health and social care and lie mainly among a small number of organisations who have limits to their powers."

Ms Rickard-Clarke said a major change of culture is required that is underpinned by legislation, policies and structures which hold individuals and organisations to account for crimes of abuse, or for not taking identified steps to prevent abuse.

The document recommends that a Safeguarding Authority sit under the Department of Justice, with involvement of the departments of Health; Social Protection; Housing; Finance; and Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Affairs.

Ms Rickard-Clarke said safeguarding needs to be more integrated across financial, housing, homelessness and justice services and policies - with safeguarding responsibilities placed on all relevant public bodies, and on private organisations.

"There needs to be a statutory obligation on State bodies to do more than respond to crises. They also need to have accountability to take steps which prevent adult abuse and uphold people's rights."

The report warned that Ireland’s current approach to safeguarding is "deeply flawed" and appears incapable of providing safe and humane care and support for all adults at risk.

It stated that the absence of adequate and appropriate legislative foundations weakens effective actions at the implementation levels, allows for confusion and over-caution in safeguarding response decisions and results in loopholes for people who wish to exploit others, or who hope to avoid responsibility for their negligent approach to safeguarding.

It also noted: "A culture that is dismissive of certain forms of abuse, that trivialises others and that plays down the human and legal rights of adults at risk, persists in Ireland. There is a need for an effective dismantling of this culture. The fragmented and specialised remits of various agencies limits their potential."

Over the last 20 years, attempts have been made to combat adult abuse, including the introduction of the HSE Safeguarding Service; regulation of some health and social care services; more robust mental health legislation; initiatives in the banking sector; and, particularly, the soon-to-be commenced Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015, according to Ms Rickard-Clarke.

However, she said that these responses primarily placed adult safeguarding within the health and social care environment. Safeguarding Ireland has called for a much wider response and accountability.