Vulnerable Persons Bill 2015: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to protect, on reasonable grounds, the financial autonomy of vulnerable persons, specifically elderly people, who lack reasonable mental and physical capacity, and to guard against financial abuse.

I thank the staff of my office for helping me to compile this Private Members' Bill. A HSE working group that was set up to look at the issue of elder abuse produced a report, Protecting our Future, in 2002. The report identified elder abuse as "a single or repeated act or lack of appropriate action occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person or violates their human and civil rights". This report, which was published 13 years ago, categorised the various types of abuse that may result from deliberate intent, neglect, thoughtlessness or ignorance as physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, and financial or material abuse, including theft, fraud, exploitation, pressure in connection with wills, property or inheritance or financial transactions, or the misuse or misappropriation of property, possessions or benefits.

The Private Members' Bill I am placing before the House today deals specifically with the financial aspect of the abuse of elderly people. The statistics available to us on this issue are deeply disturbing. Between 2007 and 2013, the HSE received 13,000 referrals from senior social workers relating specifically to elder abuse. That is a huge number by any standards. This phenomenon of elder abuse is an activity within society that is cloaked in secrecy and shame on the part of the victims and families involved. The figure of 13,000 that I have mentioned is probably an underestimate of the true scale of the problem.

The Bill I am proposing has two simple objectives. First, it seeks to codify in legislation what is meant by financial abuse of the elderly and to propose suitable legal sanctions depending on the severity of each case. In the context of this Bill, financial abuse of the elderly means interfering with the financial autonomy and well-being of an elderly person by deception or intimidation or obtaining or using the funds or assets of an elderly person to benefit someone other than this elderly person. Second, the Bill seeks to reignite a national conversation on how we treat elderly people and the measures we can put in place to offer them greater security and peace of mind. We all know how challenging the present times are for elderly people who live in isolation, poverty or a state of fear of rural crime.

I am more hopeful of achieving my second objective than my first objective, given the marked reluctance of the Government to accept recommendations made in the Private Members' Bills introduced by Opposition Members. I hope the Government will accept this Bill and allow it to advance for discussion and debate on Committee Stage. This serious issue is of concern to many people. The report I have mentioned indicates these serious issues have existed since 2002. As I have said, the 13,000 complaints made by senior social workers between 2007 and 2013 might be the tip of the iceberg, bearing in mind the sensitivity and privacy issues associated with families. The whole issue of pride arises as well. Many people do not want to have situations being reported and Garda investigations taking place.

It is an honest effort on my part to deal with this issue. The Bill can be taken, discussed, debated and amended and I appeal to the Taoiseach and the Government to do that.

Is the Bill being opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.