Seanad debates

Monday, 29 March 2021

Living with Covid-19: Statements


10:30 am

Photo of Frances BlackFrances Black (Independent) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister to the House. I start by sending my condolences to all those who have lost loved ones in this awful pandemic. I also commend all the front-line workers who are doing an absolutely incredible job.

It is an extremely challenging time for everyone at the moment, and no doubt about it. We are all doing our best, but I think that the Minister might agree with me on the following. The idea of wartime solidarity and the we are all in this together sentiment seems to have faded somewhat with the sheer length of this ongoing virus battle. We cannot and will not give up hope, and we will continue to work together to create a safer environment for everyone.

We are all struggling, but the reality is that there are some members of the public whom this current lockdown is affecting in a greater way. I have seen through my own work as a therapist and through my ongoing work on the Joint Committee on Health. I want to use this opportunity today to highlight those who need more support and protection, and this includes vulnerable adults and those suffering with mental health difficulties. The Covid-19 pandemic has served to amplify existing concerns about the protection and human rights of vulnerable adults in Ireland. Safeguarding and protection teams have reported an increase in safeguarding concerns for public and private care home residents due to the lack of access and visitation for families. These visits act as both safeguarding and quality assurance measures, and their absence is notable and worrying.It is absolutely terrifying to think of how widespread the abuse, neglect and exploitation of adults is in Ireland. We now know, from the research on adult safeguarding, that most abuse occurs in the home, behind closed doors, for a variety of reasons. This abuse may by psychological, physical or financial. According to a report commissioned by the Banking and Payments Federation Ireland, 20% of adults have experienced financial abuse and the physical abuse of vulnerable adults has been witnessed or suspected by one in three adults. In 2018, 11,780 safeguarding concerns were notified to HSE safeguarding and protection teams across Ireland, according to the national safeguarding office annual report.

For this reason, as individuals are at present restricted in their movements due to Covid-19, it is imperative and urgent that we enact specific and comprehensive legislation to safeguard and protect not only vulnerable adults, but all adults who may be susceptible to abuse. We need to see the establishment of an independent agency. A number of additional protections are required to ensure that adults at risk are fully safeguarded. These protections include a duty to report, a mandatory response, a duty to provide assistance and a duty to co-operate for financial institutions and local authorities. There must be a power of entry in situations of immediate concern for the safety of an individual at risk and a duty to secure the involvement of the adult at risk. There must be a power to obtain information, it must be honoured and this information must be shared appropriately, in light of the general data protection regulation, GDPR.

Senator Kelleher and the Civil Engagement Group proposed the Adult Safeguarding Bill in 2017. This passed Second Stage in the Seanad in April 2017 with cross-party support. This Bill defined harm and abuse and proposed the establishment of a national safeguarding authority with a variety of powers to support people and to intervene in situations of abuse in addition to instituting a reporting regime. I call for a full hearing on this Bill.

Finally, I will talk about sport. As the Minister of State knows, sport is about more than just games and competitions. It is also about connection, community, prospects, sanctuary, the shaping of character and discipline. For many youths in working-class communities, it is a life-saving activity. The absence of sport can be devastating for individuals and their families. The current restrictions on youth sport can be better tailored to meet the needs of young people and their families. The definitions of what is essential and non-essential have become somewhat arbitrary. I encourage a return to community sport. Every football club with which we have engaged takes the pandemic and young people's health seriously. No club is calling for the return of leagues or matches. Instead, they are asking for a Covid-conscious return to the pitch which follows health guidelines and ensures that kids work in pods. The clubs can mirror the phased return of schools in a return to outdoor sport. Engagement and connection with sport are directly correlated with many young people's mental and physical well-being not only in the short term but in a potentially long-lasting way which can result in young people dropping out of sport for good with devastating impacts on their future prospects.


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