The Irish Association of Social Workers has criticised the HSE for failing to appoint designated liaison persons to oversee the handling of allegations of child abuse that are brought to its attention.

The criticism comes on the day mandatory reporting of concerns about child welfare has been introduced by the Government.

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone says the Government's introduction of mandatory reporting ends 20 years of stalling in the face of a series of reports on child abuse in church, State and voluntary organisations.

From today, thousands of professionals, such as teachers, doctors, nurses and gardaí, must report suspicions of child abuse to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.

Irish Association of Social Workers chairman Frank Browne 

The HSE has appointed officers called Children First leads to oversee its handling of abuse complaints but the organisation representing social workers says it is failing to appoint Designated Liaison Persons (DLPs), a move that would be in line with official best practice.

Frank Browne, who chairs the Irish Association of Social Workers, says DLPs have been appointed in many private organisations to provide personnel with experienced and professional leadership on abuse issues.

He said they would ensure that the HSE is notifying the right type of referrals to Tusla. He instanced the HSE's primary care and mental health services as the areas which would need DLPs.

Mr Browne predicts that if the HSE does not appoint DLPs, Tusla will be overwhelmed an outcome he says most people are predicting.

He said that could have consequences for protecting children from abuse and for their general welfare because Tusla's resources would to be sucked into handling inappropriate referrals.

Barnardos, which has long campaigned for today's initiative, believes that Tusla is ready to handle a predicted upsurge in reporting.

Fergus Finlay, the CEO of the charity said the agency was "reasonably well equipped" and had been working flat out to prepare for today.

Speaking on RTE's Morning Ireland, Mr Finlay said that there was a culture of silence in Ireland that had to be broken.

He said if this means that there will be short-term problems in relation to Tusla’s capacity to deal with a spike in reporting, then this must be weathered.

Last week, the Government-appointed Rapporteur on Children, Dr Geoffrey Shannon, recommended a review of Tusla's policies and procedures in investigating allegations of abuse. He warned that they may not meet the requirements of natural justice for the accused person.

The HSE strongly rejected the criticism, saying it had provided extensive training to almost 60,000 staff to date on their duties under the Children First Act, with an emphasis on those who will be more directly involved in reporting roles.

This evening, Fianna Fáil called for the extension of mandatory reporting to cover suspicions of abuse perpetrated against adults with disabilities.

The party's spokesperson on the area, Margaret Murphy O'Mahony, said this was the only way to stamp out such abuse.