By Laurence Mulligan & Abigail Gray


Published 17 April 2023


According to the Oireachtas the purpose of the Adult Safeguarding Bill 2017 is to make further and better provision for the care and protection of adults who are at risk; to establish the National Adult Safeguarding Authority and to require certain persons to make reports to the National Adult Safeguarding Authority in respect of adults at risk of abuse or harm in certain circumstances[1]. The Adult Safeguarding Bill 2017 is currently before Seanad Eireann at the third stage.

Specifically however in relation to health, work is ongoing to review and reform adult safeguarding within the health and social care sector in Ireland. A revised HSE adult safeguarding policy has remained in draft since 2019. As the HSE has been developing its revised policy and implementation plan, the Department of Health is planning to publish its draft policy for consultation. In addition, a Health (Adult Safeguarding) Bill is included in the Government’s legislative programme. The purpose of this Bill, which is separate and distinct to the Adult Safeguarding Bill 2017, is to underpin a planned national health sector policy on safeguarding vulnerable or at-risk adults in the context of their interactions with the health sector.

The main provider of services to safeguard in Ireland is the HSE which operates an Adult Safeguarding Policy within older persons services and services for people with disabilities. The “Safeguarding Vulnerable Persons at Risk of Abuse - National Policy and Procedures”, which applies to all HSE and HSE funded services, outlines a number of principles to promote the welfare of vulnerable people and safeguard them from abuse. These include a requirement that all services must have a publicly declared “No Tolerance” approach to any form of abuse and must promote a culture which supports this ethos.[2]

However, despite the policies that are in place, following certain serious scandals in the sector, serious failings have been uncovered within the HSEs’ current system. In 2017, the National Independent Review Panel (NIRP) was established by the HSE to review "the most serious incident's within the HSE and HSE funded disability services". Evidence reviewed by the NIRP of serious incidents at HSE-run facilities in Co Donegal showed abuse occurred with the full knowledge of staff and management of the facility at the time. [3]

In December 2021, the HSE released part of this external review by the NIRP in August 2020, which found that a former resident with intellectual disabilities, given the pseudonym ‘Brandon’, perpetrated at least 108 sexual assaults on upwards of 18 intellectually disabled adults, most of them non-verbal, between 2003 and 2016 in Co. Donegal. The HSE fully accepted the findings of the report and apologised for ‘failings in care’. The Executive Summary of the Brandon Report found a lack of external management oversight and that leadership from the HSE also allowed the situation to worsen. In the wake of the ‘Brandon’ review, HSE management provided assurances that adult safeguarding was being resourced.

There is a considerable amount of work still to be done on the area of adult safeguarding in Ireland and we await further developments.