Vulnerable Persons Bill 2015: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am delighted to have the opportunity to debate the Vulnerable Persons Bill 2015, which I submitted quite some time ago. It was No. 1 in the lottery system but every second week at the business meeting it was not drawn. I thought it was stuck to the bottom of the raffle drum.

I thank Ms Sarah Ekada, who, while completing an internship with my office, was instrumental in the development of the Bill, along with David Mullins and my daughter, Triona. What is also remarkable about Ms Ekada is that although her family originally immigrated from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she has sought to advance at all times the welfare of our own most vulnerable citizens. Today, she cannot attend this debate as she is at a conference in France doing this very work. She is a person of deep faith with a commitment to human dignity and for that she is to be commended. She is a credit to her family.

Elder abuse is one of the most serious and vicious activities that can be perpetrated upon vulnerable persons. It often takes place in great secrecy, hidden even from other close members of the same family who may be unaware of what is taking place. We know parents want to help their children. They want to be able to assist them where possible, including financially.

The fundamental point at issue here is that such assistance must always be a personal choice, and one that is made free of coercion, manipulation or threats. Where such a right to financial autonomy and the control of a person’s own finances is under threat, and where it involves brute physical, emotional or psychological pain, the State must become involved to vindicate and protect such rights. It has been clear for well over a decade that elderly people who are perhaps experiencing the onset of dementia also experience a very real pressure to transfer over management of their funds. That is understandable in some respects. However, as far back as 2013, the Law Reform Commission was conscious that the elderly constitute a significant and growing group who may also need specific support and protection from the legal system. Its report found that while the majority of elderly people do not need any special legal support or protection, there is a significant minority who, because of illness, disability, impaired mental capacity or social and economic dependency, do need protection. They may require protection from physical or mental abuse. They may need protection from the misuse of their money or property. The commission also found that at some stage they may need help with making decisions and, ultimately, they may need a substitute decision maker. As the report outlined, this matter is of interest to everyone and not just the current generation of elderly people. Any one of us could become a vulnerable adult in need of protection and there is nothing more certain than that.

To give a concrete example of what I am speaking about, I will refer to a case dealt with by my office, which was very distressing to all concerned. I will not give any names for obvious reasons. A lady wrote to me in 2015 because she was very concerned by the treatment and abuse her mother and father were receiving at the hands of her brother. Despite having 37 people who could corroborate the abuse her mother and father received, it took years for effective action to be taken. The HSE senior case worker for elder abuse involved was also verbally assaulted on many occasions. He declined to engage with the brother due to the level of verbal abuse. The public health nurse also referred the case following some disturbing interactions. The shoulder of this lady’s mother was broken in the presence of their youngest brother. Can we imagine? The days prior to her final hospital visit also deeply unsettled the neighbours.

The lady claimed to me, and it was subsequently verified, that the Garda never questioned the brother who was being accused of the abuse. This was despite the fact that the elderly mother was found tied up in her bedroom by a neighbour who needed some time to unravel the flex of the hoover with which she had been tied up. Just imagine. The mind boggles. Even the hospital consultant found the alleged abuser's behaviour aggressive, with a family doctor recalling him as a very troubled man. Despite all of this, the DPP's decision was that the evidence available was insufficient to prosecute. This case highlights the extreme difficulties families have in finding appropriate legal protection for their loved ones.

From an organisational viewpoint, and from information provided to me by the HSE and the Minister for Health, it is absolutely clear that the problem and scale of elder abuse remains hidden in the shadows of our culture. We know from the most recent data that at least 8,000 cases of alleged abuse or neglect of adults were reported to the HSE. We also know from a RED C survey carried out by the National Safeguarding Committee, NSC, that 16% of people admitted they knew a vulnerable adult close to them who had experienced financial abuse. The survey also found that one in three people believe vulnerable adult abuse to be widespread, suggesting the public believes there is a problem with safeguarding those who are limited in their ability to protect themselves.

In 2016, I appealed to the HSE and the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to increase the number of HSE case workers assigned to process and combat elder abuse. Sadly, it fell on deaf ears. I am not aware of any significant subsequent increase in resource allocations that would allow us to state greater inroads have been made in tackling this specific crime. I was informed by the head of operations and service improvement in the HSE's services for older people that only 31 senior case workers for the protection of older people were employed on a local health office area basis between 2011 and 2015. Clearly it is not being monitored and we are scratching at the surface and not dealing with it. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Health claim the budget is €17 billion, with €1 billion more in the Estimates every year. There are massive overruns but gaps across the board. In this case we have the distressing situations of the people who built up this country and gave us all that we have today. The years from 2011 to 2015 were also when more than 13,000 referrals of such abuse were recorded and assessed by senior case workers in the HSE. We need to know what the Government and, specifically, what the Minister has done to address this gaping deficit in service provision. I hope when he replies the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, will be able to tell us and not pass the buck for the Minister for Health.

During the summer, Ms Evelyn Ring of the Irish Examiner wrote an excellent and informative article summarising many of the concerns about this issue. I compliment her and challenge other journalists to do the same and expose this heinous behaviour. Her article made clear that reports of alleged abuse of older people and persons with disabilities increased by almost 30% in the past year. We must ask ourselves why this is happening. We are told every day about the recovery and that we are coming out the dark recession when many families fell into awful situations. Many parents and grandparents tried their best to help out and they are still helping out. Why is this increasing at a time of supposed economic recovery? What is driving people to this distracted state in which they would abuse their elderly? It was also noted that 10,118 safeguarding concerns were raised with the HSE last year, a 28% increase from 2016, with the largest increase recorded for those aged 18 to 64. These are staggering and shocking figures that are a huge cause for concern. Of the concerns reported to the HSE's national safeguarding teams, 7,199 came from a service setting and 2,915 from the community. This is also staggering and a shocking indictment. RTÉ discussed this on Mary Wilson's programme and tonight on "Prime Time" it will have an exposé on something similar. I salute it for this.

An analysis of the reporting rate shows that it increases with age. Concerns about women are higher in all age categories but reporting increases threefold for men aged over 80. Some of the key findings of a recent report by the National Safeguarding Committee found that for persons aged under 65, physical abuse is the most significant category at 46%. Psychological abuse and financial abuse at 31% and 22% remain the most significant categories for those aged over 65. In cases of alleged financial abuse, a son or daughter accounted for 40% of cases for those aged over 65, with a further 24% involving another relative. This is shocking. It was specifically highlighted that training and public awareness increased the level of concerns notified to the HSE safeguarding service.

I do not want to give the impression that this issue is specific to Ireland. By and large, we are still a culture that cherishes our elderly and incidents of attacks upon them are still greeted with the absolute disgust and horror they merit. In the broader European context, we have the European strategy to combat elder abuse against older women. The EU understands abuse of the elderly as a human rights violation affecting a significant number of old people, among whom a high percentage are older women.

Violence against the elderly is a violation of Article 25 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which recognises and respects the right of the elderly to lead a life of dignity and independence and to participate in social and cultural life. There has been much discussion of rights in this House in recent years. These are very basic human rights which should be respected. A Eurobarometer special report on health and long-term care in the European Union highlighted that 47% of European citizens think that poor treatment, neglect and abuse of dependent older people are common in their country. That is a staggering figure. It is a shocking statistic which speaks to the pervasiveness of this issue. Women are also particularly vulnerable to abuse. Two thirds of Europeans aged 80 or more are women and more than a third of them suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, which makes them even more vulnerable to abuse.

It is clear that the issues addressed by the Bill are widespread and urgent. The specific intention of the Bill is to protect, on reasonable grounds, the financial autonomy of vulnerable persons, specifically elderly people who lack reasonable mental and physical capacity, to guard against financial abuse. We often hear of scary things happening relating to power of attorney and wards of court also. The Bill provides:

“elder abuse’’ may be defined as an intentional act that could reasonably be expected to result in physical or psychological injury to an elderly person;

‘‘financial abuse’’ means interfering with the financial autonomy and wellbeing of a vulnerable person, which involves a person knowingly by deception or intimidation, obtaining or using, or endeavouring to obtain or use an elderly person’s funds, assets or property with the intent to temporarily or permanently deprive the elderly person of the use, benefit or possession of the funds, assets or property, or to benefit someone other than the elderly person;

‘‘vulnerable person’’ means a person, other than a child, who—

(a) is suffering from a disorder of the mind, whether as a result of mental illness or age,

(b) is suffering from a physical impairment, whether as a result of injury, illness or age, or

(c) has a physical disability, which is of such a nature or degree—

(i) as to restrict the capacity of the person to guard himself or herself against harm by another person, or

(ii) that the person is incapable of adequately providing for his or her own health

I am entirely open to amending the Bill to remove any conflicts with existing legislation. My aim is not solely to try to do something in my capacity as a legislator but also to try to keep a national conversation going on this matter. I accept that it is a difficult and challenging issue to discuss. It would be easier to pretend that the problem is not as widespread as it is, but that would do nothing to help those most in need. If Members are not here to help such people, they have no right to be here in the first place. I note the basic goodwill on all sides of this House in terms of addressing this matter. All Members want to do what they can to advance remedies that work and are effective, but we need resources and more fully trained and professionally skilled people who can recognise, identify and engage with families or individuals who are experiencing these problems. It is up to us all to play our part and make this a country where the old are cherished and valued. As stated by Robert Greenleaf, “Where there is no community, trust, respect, ethical behaviour are difficult for the young to learn and for the old to maintain.”

I am taking this Private Members' Bill on behalf of my colleague the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, who is unable to attend. I thank Deputy Mattie McGrath for bringing the Bill forward and giving the House an opportunity to discuss this important issue.

The important objective of the Bill is to protect, on reasonable grounds, the financial autonomy of vulnerable persons, specifically the elderly, who lack reasonable mental and physical capacity, to guard against financial abuse. A person might, because of their age or for another reason, be especially vulnerable to exploitation. He or she may lack the capacity to take certain decisions and, because of that, could be taken advantage of by persons on whom he or she relies for care. The Government fully recognises that and has taken steps to address the issue, most notably the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 and ongoing policy initiatives in the health sector.

Section 1 of the Bill sets out definitions for “elder abuse”, “financial abuse” and “vulnerable person”. I understand that the purpose of the section is to codify in legislation what is meant by financial abuse of the elderly. Deputies will be aware that definitions are normally used in Bills to explain what is meant by terms that are used in the Bill itself. The terms defined here are not used in the Bill and cannot have any application outside of the Bill. In that context, I note that the Bill appears to conflate vulnerability and age. Of course, not all vulnerable adults are elderly and, similarly, not all elderly persons are vulnerable.

Section 2 is the substantive part of the Bill. It creates several offences relating to the financial abuse of elderly persons. Most if not all of the offences set out are crimes under existing legislation. Subsection (1)(a) makes it an offence to use an elderly person’s confidential financial information and funds for unauthorised self-gain. This would, in most cases, be prosecutable as a fraud offence. An offence under section 6 of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001 is committed where a person dishonestly, with the intention of making a gain for himself or herself or another, or of causing loss to another, by any deception induces another to do or refrain from doing an act. Paragraph (a) of subsection (2) creates an offence of taking or forcibly taking the belongings of an elderly person without his or her permission or consent. This would be covered by the offence of theft under section 4 of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act. Under that section, a person is guilty of theft if he or she dishonestly appropriates property without the consent of its owner and with the intention of depriving its owner of it. Paragraph (c) of subsection (3) makes it an offence to “forge signatures and make a false instrument/statement with the intention that it shall be used to induce another person to accept it as genuine and, by reason of so accepting it to do some act, or to make some omission, to the prejudice of the elderly person”. This is already covered by the offence of forgery under section 25 of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act.

These new offences are not required. Moreover, they would be more difficult to prosecute than the existing offences because they have additional elements that would have to be proven by the prosecution. For example, in regard to the offence of taking an elderly person’s belongings, the prosecution would have the burden of showing that the person is elderly. There is the added complication of there being no definition of "elderly".

There are also issues regarding the penalties provided for in the offences. The offences under subsection (1) carry a penalty of “a fine not less than €600”. For the offences under subsection (2) the penalty is “a fine not less than €1,500”. For the offences under subsections (3) and (4) the penalty is “a fine not less than €3,000 and/or imprisonment for a term not less than 3 years”. As Deputies may be aware, normal practice is for legislation to specify maximum penalties, leaving the precise sentence to be determined by a judge depending of the facts of each case. Perhaps that is what Deputy Mattie McGrath intended in the Bill. If that is the case, then the penalties fall far short of those under the theft and fraud offences legislation. Under the existing law, the maximum penalties are an unlimited fine and imprisonment for a term ranging from five to ten years. The much lower penalties in the Bill would be a significant departure from the existing position and would greatly reduce the deterrent effect.

On a literal reading of the Bill, these penalties would be minimum penalties but no maximum penalties are provided. That would also be very problematic. In general, minimum sentences are not used in Irish law. Absolute minimums, where there is no discretion for a sentencing judge to impose a lower sentence, even in exceptional circumstances, are very rarely used - murder is one example - and even then there tends to be a maximum sentence. There are also constitutional issues as there is no scope for a judge to impose a sentence in keeping with the circumstances of the offender and the offence. The lack of any maximum sentences is particularly concerning. It means that life imprisonment could be imposed for these offences which, again, would be a dramatic departure for the law in this area.

As I say, it is not completely clear what interpretation is intended but either way, the result is disproportionate sentences. Furthermore, Members will be aware that the Minister has stated that he will provide for the introduction of sentencing guidelines in the Judicial Council Bill, which is currently before the Seanad. These guidelines, which will be constitutionally compatible, will ensure greater consistency in sentencing.

There are also several drafting issues in the Bill. For example, as I have mentioned, there are defined terms that are not used elsewhere in the Bill. There are also terms that are imprecise and perhaps should be defined. Section 3 provides for a regulation-making power but does not set out any detail as to what is to be prescribed by regulations. There are some places where words are repeated and others where it seems words have been omitted. As I mentioned, the Government is committed to ensuring that elderly and vulnerable adults are safeguarded from financial abuse. Since Deputy Mattie McGrath introduced his Bill in November 2015, the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act has been enacted. That Act provides a modern statutory framework to support decision making by adults with capacity difficulties. It provides for the repeal of the Lunacy Regulation (Ireland) Act 1871 and the Marriage of Lunatics Act 1811. The current wards of court system for adults will be phased out. The Act offers a continuum of options to support people in maximising their decision-making capability. The Act provides for the setting up of the decision support service within the Mental Health Commission, which is under the aegis of the Minister for Health. It also provides for three types of decision-making support options to respond to the range of support needs that people may have with regard to decision-making capacity. With each of the three decision-making support options, decisions can be made on personal welfare, property and finance or a combination of both. As part of a suite of safeguards against exploitation of persons with decision-making difficulties, the Act creates a number of offences relating to persons with decision-making capacity difficulties. In particular, under section 145 of the Act, a decision-making assistant, co-decision-maker, decision-making representative, attorney for the relevant person or designated healthcare representative who willfully ill-treats or neglects the person will be guilty of an offence and will be liable on conviction to a fine of up to €50,000 and-or a term of imprisonment of five years.

The Act also creates a number of offences relating to coercion or undue influence of a person with capacity difficulties that forces the person to enter into, alter or revoke one of the decision-making support arrangements under the Act. Appropriate sectoral safeguarding initiatives may complement the protections afforded to vulnerable adults under the criminal law. The Government has tasked the Department of health with developing an over-arching national policy on adult safeguarding in the health sector. Work in relation to developing this sectoral policy is under way in consultation with key stakeholders. The policy will cover the entire health sector, public, voluntary and private. It will also address collaboration, co-operation and referral arrangements between the health sector and other key sectors, including the justice and welfare systems. The Department of Health aims to circulate a draft health sector policy for public consultation by the second half of next year and to secure Government approval for detailed and costed policy proposals around the end of 2019 with draft legislation being introduced as required thereafter to underpin the approved policy.

In conclusion, I again thank Deputy Mattie McGrath for having raised this issue. While the Government is fully supportive of the objectives of the Bill, we believe they are achieved by other measures: the existing criminal law, the Assisted Decision-Making Capacity Act and operational measures and policies in the health sector. For these reasons and because of fundamental difficulties with the criminal law provisions proposed, I am opposing this Bill.

I commend Deputy Mattie McGrath for tabling this Bill and using Private Members' time to move it. I am making this contribution on behalf of Deputy Ó Caoláin, who is unable to be here. I am disappointed the Government is unable at least to support the Bill to Committee Stage. Very often, the Government cites errors in a Bill which, as we know, can quite easily be rectified on Committee Stage. This is why we take Bills in various Stages, so that we can correct and iron out any difficulties that might be there. I accept what the Minister said as there has been movement in some of the areas in terms of the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act that has improved the situation but this Bill would complement all of that and should have been supported to at least Committee Stage so that we could argue and tease out the difficulties the Minister says are in the Bill.

My party fully supports the intent of the Bill and its progress to the next Stage. The abuse, financial or otherwise, of our elder citizens or other vulnerable people is beneath contempt. It is unfortunate and very worrying that this is becoming more prevalent. I listened with intent as Deputy Mattie McGrath spoke about the statistics and facts behind all of this. It is very troubling that an awful lot of this abuse comes from family members such as sons and daughters. It is also worrying to hear that a high number of these incidents happen in service settings, which means that they also happen in State agencies and organisations tasked with looking after people. Deputy Mattie McGrath talked about an edition of "Prime Time" that will air this evening. A number of editions of "Prime Time" have shown problems in this area over the past number of years. We have seen it not just in this area but in the childcare sector and nursing homes. Having said that, it must be said that the vast majority of people in care service settings receive very good care. I am sure Deputy Mattie McGrath would acknowledge that as well but where there is a problem, it must be dealt with decisively and robustly when it comes to very vulnerable people who are exposed.

It is not pleasant to have to acknowledge in the Dáil that the circumstances of this abuse sometimes originate within families. It does not give us any pleasure to say that but it is a reality. In acknowledging that, we must do much more and improve in whatever areas we can to ensure we reduce these types of incidents and make sure those responsible for this disgusting behaviour are held to account. We have a duty of care as legislators and as a society to our most vulnerable citizens. We must protect them from this abuse. I have acknowledged some advances by Government that have been made in recent times since Deputy Mattie McGrath moved his Bill in 2015 that give greater protections to older and vulnerable people who may be at risk of these types of incidents but I still think there is merit in the Bill, that we can add value to what has been done and that we can always improve on the circumstances.

It is important that we commit as much resources as possible to highlight this issue further. One of the things this Bill does is give us an opportunity to talk about these issues and have a conversation that perhaps we do not always have. More resources to highlight the issue further and make people more aware of its prevalence are also important. The more we talk about it, the more people become aware of it and the more difficult it might be for people to behave in an inappropriate way. I would also encourage more resources for a particular campaign where An Garda Síochána community officers can use outreach with regard to senior citizen advocacy groups and speak directly to them in an educational capacity to enable them to recognise the warning signs. If we can anticipate and learn from previous experiences and anticipate potential warning signs or flags raised so that all of those involved from law enforcement to people who work in the service settings to other family members can see and be aware of the warning signs, that is obviously to the good. This is why putting more resources into highlighting these issues and having these types of debates plays a very important part.

I know other people want to speak.

I contributing to this debate on behalf of Teachta Ó Caoláin who asked me to say he supports the Bill and wants to commend Teachta Mattie McGrath on bringing it forward. We support the intention of the Bill. As with all these Bills, there are imperfections. It is very difficult for members of the Opposition to craft Bills. We do not have the army of civil servants Ministers have when they are crafting Bills. We have various Stages in the Dáil to correct and perfect Bills where there are imperfections. I do not like the habit of knocking back Bills just because we see some errors in them. I am sure the author of the Bill would be more than willing to accommodate and work with Government and Opposition to improve the Bill. I have been in this position and it is unfair to people who introduce Bills. It is not the way we should deal with Private Members' Bills. Many motions are brought forward as Private Members' business but when a Bill is brought forward, we should give it due recognition and at least go to Committee Stage. Then we can decide whether there is merit in taking it further. I commend the author of this Bill on allowing us the opportunity to discuss this very important topic.

This Bill introduced by Deputy Mattie McGrath is very timely and should be considered more seriously. It can be amended on Committee Stage so the Minister of State might give it more attention. We need to keep focusing on elder abuse as our population grows older. The Vulnerable Persons Bill 2015 is designed to protect the financial autonomy of vulnerable persons, specifically elderly people who may not have the mental or physical capacity to guard against financial abuse. Elder financial abuse is understood by the National Centre for the Protection of Older People as the unauthorised and improper use of funds, property or any resources of an older person. This may include theft, coercion, fraud, misuse of power of attorney and not contributing to household costs where this was previously agreed. It is generally agreed that financial and-or material abuse is under-reported and is often difficult to recognise or detect.

The Joint Committee on Health considered this issue last year and produced a report on adult safeguarding. We considered a Bill introduced by Senator Kelleher, the Adult Safeguarding Bill 2017. The committee met twice to discuss matters relating to it. Representatives of the National Safeguarding Committee highlighted financial abuse as an ongoing concern and referred to the barriers to investigating such abuse. First, safeguarding teams have no right of access to a home when a high or reasonable suspicion of financial abuse exists and, second, financial institutions often work independently in investigating financial abuse. The National Safeguarding Committee stated it is discussing these issues with various financial institutions but legislation was required to set up guidelines for notification and reporting of financial abuse. The monetary cost of financial abuse of adults is unknown, but given that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection pays €7.2 billion in State pensions every year and €3 billion in occupational pensions, the potential monetary cost is very high.

It is important to note that the term "adult at risk" should be used rather than "vulnerable adult". That could be looked at when considering the Bill. It is not exclusive to any particular group and recognises that any individual may require support or care at some time. As such, safeguarding may directly impact everyone at various stages in their life.

The Joint Committee on Health met several bodies, including the Health Service Executive, Inclusion Ireland, the National Safeguarding Committee, Sage, the Department of Health and the Institute of Public Administration. These discussions included some of the most prominent ongoing issues, particularly the development of processes and structures in the HSE and other health agencies and the need for greater legislative provisions. The committee acknowledged that legislation is urgently required. The HSE reported that it received 8,000 notifications of abuse concerns in 2016. The national study of elder abuse and neglect report from 2010 estimated that 10,000 older people are mistreated or neglected every year, with 6,000 cases of financial abuse. Some reports suggest that, based on international prevalence of abuse, the figure may be 5% for people over the age of 65. In Ireland that is 32,000 people over the age of 65 years who may be experiencing mistreatment and much of that is financial abuse. It is also noted that further public awareness is required.

Ambiguity about adult safeguarding still exists and there is uncertainty as to what constitutes abuse of adults at risk. Adult safeguarding is a complex area and the committee was happy to have had the opportunity to discuss the matter with the groups who attended the committee meetings. The committee's report examined the areas covered in these meetings and made recommendations on adult safeguarding. Thus a "person at risk" is a better description than "vulnerable person" because it is a wider definition. The report made several recommendations with regard to adult safeguarding. These recommendations reflect the key areas which were highlighted in the two committee meetings. The recommendations cover areas such as setting up a national safeguarding authority, the types of abuse, staffing, inter-agency collaboration and advocacy. The committee examined financial abuse of adults at risk, in particular. The committee recommended that notifications of abuse be rapidly investigated and comprehensively reported and that any legislation should define who is considered an adult at risk, what is considered abuse and the various types of abuse. It recommended that measures be taken to improve public awareness in understanding abuse of adults at risk, particularly financial abuse and how to report such abuse; that any legislation should ensure that adults at risk be provided with access to an independent advocate; greater public awareness of the right to an independent advocate on behalf of a vulnerable person; and further consideration of the benefits of mandatory reporting for adult safeguarding.

Adults at risk are susceptible to a number of possible abuses. A RED C survey, commissioned by the National Safeguarding Committee, illustrated various types of abuse that adults had experienced or that were experienced by someone close to them. Some 32% suffered emotional abuse; 20% experienced abuse by a service provider, whether public, private or voluntary; 18% experienced abuse based on ageist attitudes; 16% experienced abuse based on a disability; 16% experienced financial abuse; 16% experienced physical abuse; and 10% experienced sexual abuse. The RED C survey also stated that 84% of adults are unclear as to what constitutes psychological abuse and 81% are unclear on what constitutes financial abuse. The committee believed that it was necessary to eliminate ambiguity in respect of the "definition of types of abuse and what is considered an adult at risk".

The Minister of State should give serious consideration to this Bill. It is not perfect. It is produced by a group which does not have the access to expert advice on drawing up Bills but the issue we are trying to illustrate is so important that the Minister of State or the relevant Minister should reflect on it.

As a GP, I see many adults who are vulnerable to financial abuse. It is very difficult to identify and prove it because the ability to investigate is very limited. It can be very obvious that people are being abused within their own homes, having their pensions taken from them or having their money restricted. It can even come down to limiting the amount of food an elderly person can get.

We need a code of conduct in respect of vulnerable people who have carers coming to their homes. I know there is a code of conduct and Garda vetting for carers who go into the home, which is extremely important. We need to acknowledge that this is a huge issue and I ask the Minister of State to reflect on his summation of the Bill.

Fianna Fáil supports this Bill and will work to strengthen its provisions on Committee Stage. I congratulate Deputy Mattie McGrath. I know he has waited for three years for the Bill to come before the House for Second Stage. The Deputy is right in saying that abuse of the elderly can take many forms. The Bill seeks to tackle one form of that abuse, namely financial abuse.

Arguably much of what is provided for in this Bill is already covered by criminal legislation. However, Safeguarding Ireland, established by the HSE in 2015 to work to safeguard vulnerable adults from abuse, has called for legislation specifically to root out financial abuse of vulnerable adults. This cannot be ignored and that is why, as spokesperson for older people for my party, I am disappointed that the Government is not supporting the Bill.

Financial abuse of the elderly can be as subtle as spending a portion of a person's pension as a perceived reward for helping with his or her care, or it can be highly calculated, involving acts of theft, coercion or fraud. It is difficult to ascertain the prevalence of financial abuse against the elderly. Overwhelmingly, the perpetrators are immediate family members and as a result of embarrassment, concerns over getting family members into trouble with the Garda and other factors, there is significant under-reporting of this abuse.

International studies estimate the prevalence of abuse in the community at 1% to 5% of the population aged 65 years and older. The HSE’s national safeguarding office, NSO, reports figures of abuse of elderly people and vulnerable adults. The NSO examined 10,118 complaints of abuse of the elderly in 2017. This was an increase of 28% on the 2016 figure. For adults over 65 years old, 22% of complaints related to allegations of financial abuse. That equates to more than 2,000 complaints of financial abuse. Financial abuse becomes significantly more common as people grow older. Of people aged over 80 who were of concern, 25% of the complaints related to financial abuse. The report concluded that for those over 65, their children were the main category of suspected abusers.

As the number of older people in Ireland increases, there is growing concern about levels of elder abuse. While elder abuse affects only a tiny minority of older people its impact can be devastating and it is important to know the signs of abuse. One-fifth of substantiated elder abuse cases reported to the HSE relate to financial abuse.

Older people with dementia are more vulnerable to abuse. People with dementia sometimes make false accusations and claim that family members or caregivers are mistreating them or stealing from them. In these cases, the dementia may be making them paranoid and delusional. Unfortunately, there are also times when seniors with dementia are being abused. People with dementia are especially vulnerable to abuse because of their impaired memory, communication skills and judgment. Unscrupulous people take advantage of these vulnerable seniors because they are easy targets.

They are not likely to report the problem, they might not be believed, or they might not be aware that abuse is even happening. Even if older adults do not recognise what is happening or cannot speak for themselves, it is important to recognise the signs. Age Action produced a very comprehensive document on the subject. It asked what is financial abuse. Financial abuse can be crimes, such as: theft of money; the use of another person’s identity in respect of credit and bank cards; forging someone else’s signature; and the use of counterfeit cheques or being tricked into signing blank cheques. It can also take the form of harmful behaviour, such as being pressured to sign documents or change one's will, and threatening to withdraw care unless money or property is provided.

The Alzheimer's Society in the UK published a comprehensive report on protecting people with dementia from financial abuse. A huge amount of work went into that report. The reality is that this is a problem and we will have to deal with it. The purpose of the report is to gather new information about the issues that people with dementia and carers face when managing their finances.

The report found that the progressive nature of dementia has particular implications when it comes to managing money. There is often a slow deterioration in the person’s ability to carry out tasks such as paying bills, dealing with paperwork, or making decisions about property and investments. Part of the problem is that these tasks require memory, comprehension and the ability to assess risk.

The increasing prevalence of dementia means more people will need support to manage their finances. As we are all aware, every day in Ireland 11 people are diagnosed with dementia. We have an aging population because, thankfully, we are all living longer. As people with dementia are likely to face the highest long-term care costs, financial planning for the future is particularly important. Meanwhile, broader social and demographic changes are highlighting the importance of the issue of financial management for people with dementia.

The way people manage their finances is changing rapidly through, for example, online transactions, cash machines, telephone banking and declining use of cheques. This could make it more difficult for people with dementia to manage their own finances and leave them more open to financial abuse.

The number of people with dementia who have pensions, property and other resources may attract those keen to exploit them through fraud and theft. Meanwhile those who have few resources are less likely to plan for the future and may struggle as their declining cognitive abilities make it harder to manage their money. Financial decision-making also presents wider concerns for people with dementia, including questions about inheritance, intergenerational relationships and debates about paying and charging for care.

It is difficult to ascertain the prevalence of financial abuse against elderly and vulnerable people. One case is one case too many. The statistics showing that more than 2,000 cases of financial abuse were examined in 2017 certainly merits a rethink of the Minister of State's decision not to support the Bill.

I look forward to working with Deputy Mattie McGrath as the Bill progresses, as no doubt it will. We need to continue to protect our older vulnerable people.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. It is very poor for the Government to dismiss this Private Members' Bill as it has. I have stood up here in the Dáil many times to advocate for the rights of vulnerable people and the elderly. I support the Bill because it seeks to protect the financial autonomy of vulnerable persons, specifically elderly people who lack the reasonable mental or physical capacity to guard against financial abuse. The question is as follows. Would someone know if an older relative, friend or neighbour was being financially abused?

Last year it was reported that the alleged abuse of older people and people with disabilities had increased by almost 30%. The National Safeguarding Committee chairperson has stated that international research suggests that up to 10% of older adults may experience financial abuse. A total of 1,645 cases of alleged adult financial abuse have been reported to the HSE's national safeguarding office since it started collating data in January 2016 up to June 2017. This includes an increase of approximately 44% in the first half of 2017 compared with the same period in the previous year.

The bottom line is that elder abuse exists.

It is all around us. Sadly, many older people are suffering in silence, unaware of what they can do about it. In my heart of hearts, I know we are seeing only the tip of the iceberg regarding the level of abuse that exists by comparison with what is reported. It is time we stood up to lift the lid on the financial abuse of older people.

This Bill would take measures to protect vulnerable people and the elderly. For example, it would make it an offence to use an elderly person's confidential financial information and funds for unauthorised self-gain. It would make it an offence to force changes to a will or other legal documents. It would make it an offence to deny an elderly person the right to access his or her personal funds. This Bill is very relevant. Unfortunately, it is required because of the need to protect the rights of the vulnerable and the elderly. The Government is being very unfair in respect of the Bill. It was written in 2015 before nearly all the legislation to which the Minister of State referred even existed. How could Deputy Mattie McGrath anticipate that his Bill would conflict with legislation that did not yet exist? This is nothing short of an absolute nonsense on the part of the Government. Thankfully, it seems that Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin see the importance of protecting the elderly.

Despite the Government's opposition to this Bill for the reasons I have outlined, I thank the Deputy for giving the House an opportunity to discuss this important topic. The Government agrees fully with the main objective of Deputy Mattie McGrath's Bill, namely, the need to protect the most vulnerable, particularly the elderly and those whose limited capacity makes them a target for exploitation. However, having reviewed the technical points raised in the Bill, it is clear that much of what it aims to achieve by way of criminal offences is covered under existing criminal law, notably the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud) Offences Act 2001. I encourage the Deputies opposite to read that. Many of the broader policy objectives of the Bill have been incorporated into more recent changes in the law and policy since Deputy Mattie McGrath introduced it in 2015.

The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 supports decision-making by adults with capacity difficulties, irrespective of age. There is significant ongoing work on this, in addition to operational measures and policies in the health sector that will come on stream over the next 12 months. The Deputy may ask what the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act does. I encourage Deputies to study it because many of the issues the Deputy raised are covered by it. The Act provides a modern statutory framework to support decision-making by adults with capacity difficulties. It was signed into law on 30 December 2015. It provides for the repeal of the Lunacy (Regulation) Ireland Act 1871 and the Marriage of Lunatics Act 1811. The current ward of court system for adults will be phased out. The Act offers a continuation of options to support people in maximising their decision-making capacity. It provides for the setting up of the Decision Support Service within the Mental Health Commission, which is under the aegis of the Minister for Health. Ms Áine Flynn was appointed director of the Decision Support Service on 2 October 2017. I encourage the Deputy to meet her. Commencement of the substantive provisions of the Act - the repeal of the Lunacy (Regulation) Ireland Act 1871 and the Marriage of Lunatics Act 1811 and the abolition of the ward of court system for adults - is necessary for Ireland's compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Robust safeguards have been included in the Act to guard against the exploitation of vulnerable adults with decision-making difficulties and to ensure persons appointed under the Act to support decision-making by a person with a capacity difficulty abide by their responsibilities under the Act.

Let me address some of the points raised. Deputy Cullinane asked that the Bill be allowed to proceed to Committee Stage. The provisions sought already exist. I said in my opening remarks that the offences covered in what Deputy Mattie McGrath is proposing already exist in law. Some of the issues could be brought to the attention of the Minister for Health.

Deputy Harty made some interesting points but the important work of the safeguarding body and the health sector legislation on reporting are matters for the Department of Health. This Bill's approach is from a criminal law perspective and not from a Department of Health perspective.

The Minister for Health can reflect on some of the issues raised by the Deputies opposite. I am not saying that Deputy Mattie McGrath is not very well meaning in his Bill. I say that genuinely but I stated in my opening remarks that much of what is covered in it is already covered in law. It is regrettable that we are not accepting the Bill. The Bill was put on the Order Paper a while back. There has been considerable legislative change since then. I have set out the reasons we are not supporting the Deputy's Bill.

I thank all the Deputies who supported me this evening. I admitted at the outset that we do not have the resources to research legislation. We do not like the teams of civil servants that the Government has, nor can we carry out pre-legislative scrutiny. The Government railroaded through the termination of pregnancy legislation without any pre-legislative scrutiny. Therefore, it cannot be critical of me. It forced through an horrendous Bill without legal scrutiny, yet it wants to apportion blame to backbenchers. The Government has the powers of the State, yet it will not even acknowledge this. Pre-legislative scrutiny has been evaluated recently and found to be of great help in getting legislation right and tweaking it properly before it comes into the Houses. On this side of the House, we do not have that support.

This Bill was initiated in 2015. The Minister of State read out a plethora of legislative measures that have been introduced since. Dúirt bean liom go ndúirt bean léi. The Minister of State reminds me of a fellow who was at a dance one time but who is now dead. His two girlfriends are dead as well so I can speak about them. I will not speak ill of the dead. The man was going to the stage in Ballymacarbry, which is in Deputy Butler's constituency. He had one girlfriend called Cathy and another called Katie. This was found out because on the night he turned up, he said, "God damn it, I have neither Kitty nor Cathy tonight." He had nothing. The Minister of State is the same. He has neither this nor that. He could not even bring home the soldiers from the Lebanon two weeks ago after six months.

We need to stick to the Bill.

Mattie, do not be like that.

We need to stick to the topic.

I am sticking with the Bill but I am reminding the Minister of State of his inadequacies as Minister of State. With all his officials, he left behind soldiers-----

He should go to the Oireachtas Library-----

-----from my county and others, who spent six months in the Lebanon. He abandoned them. They were all ready to come home. They had holidays planned and loved ones waiting for them and everything else.

The Deputy should stick to the subject.

I am sticking to the subject. I did not interrupt the Minister of State.

We are not accepting the Bill because the Deputy did not spend time studying it.

Can we calm down?

From what I have heard, the Minister of State's ramble-shaggle-taggle Government is going to be forced to accept it because Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil are supporting it. The heroes and great socialists, who want all legislation, do not care about the elderly. The do not care about the young or the unborn either. Where are they? The Bill will be put to a vote here next Thursday. Tá súil agam go mbeidh an bua againn. Today the Government was beaten out of the gaff again. The Minister of State should have researched the Bill himself before he came in. I accepted that there are parts of the legislation that I am not an expert on. In proposing that it proceed to Committee Change, I accepted it would be changed. Deputy Harty made a great recommendation in regard to the Title, stating it should be called the "Adult Persons at Risk Bill". That is a wonderful suggestion. Deputy Harty is dealing will all the circumstances in question in his surgery as a general practitioner of some renown in County Clare. The Minister of State referred to the Judicial Council Bill. My God, I have asked about that legislation about 100 times in my 11 years here. It has been delayed time and again.

Then the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, took it up with gusto and the Government sent out all types of people with statements to try to derail him also. What impact will that have on what I said?

The Minister of State also referred to the theft and fraud offences Act. If he had listened to my contribution - my script was carefully drafted and I did not deviate from it - he would know that the case I quoted went on for decades or more. Over 30 people could corroborate and support the allegations, but there was no investigation by An Garda Síochána. HSE case workers, social workers and district nurses were all in fear of this person who was said to be abusing his unfortunate mother while her shoulder was broken but nobody acted. In the heel of the hunt when the Garda got involved and sent a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions, no prosecution was recommended. All the Minister's talk about different legislation is like boiling the bacon without the cabbage or the turnips. It is very untasty stuff. He was not listening to what was said.

The Minister of State also referred to the assisted capacity legislation. It has been passed and I welcome it. I also contributed to the debate on it. However, people are being neglected, especially the elderly and the vulnerable. Deputy Harty referred to them as adult persons at risk. There are cracks and even gaping holes, as the Minister knows. I quoted the figures, as did Deputies Butler, Cullinane and Michael Collins. Deputy Harty quoted figures too, with his personal reports of dealing with people. From where are we getting those figures? They are independent. Deputy Harty was at pains to point out that the health committee, at which he has done powerful work on behalf of the Government, had held meetings with all of the stakeholders who made many requests. They saw the gaping holes and have demanded action. However, when a Deputy like me, with limited resources, tries to take action and waits for two years in a lottery system, this is the respect the Government has for the Private Members' Bill. This is the new politics and the type of Government we have. It rubbishes the Bill. As I said, the Government can amend or redraft it in whatever way it wishes. It is not sacrosanct.

I had the same problem with the former Minister, Alan Shatter who was mightier than anybody. We had a scrap about precious metals when I attempted to introduce legislation in that regard. At the time the country was being plundered - it is still being plundered - of precious metals, wonderful ornaments and masts for aviation and so forth, but the Bill was declared to be rubbish because it had come from us. Nothing has been done about it since. A closed hospital within view of this House was stripped one weekend. Parked lorries and signs for road works were placed and everybody thought a big job was taking place. Every bit of steel and precious metal in the building was cleaned out, put on a boat and taken out of the country. We are still waiting for that Bill.

The Government has numerous Bills, but there are still gaping holes. Above all, we are neglecting the most vulnerable who are at risk. We have been aware of this since the recession and the credit unions are anxious to deal with it. We have met its representatives and listened to them. Representatives of many other organisations have appeared before the health committee and spoken about huge concerns. The Minister of State also knows this. The assisted capacity Bill has been passed, but that legislation is not infallible. One can find a legal eagle to tackle any Bill, while the Garda is limited and frustrated in what it can do.

As Deputy Butler said, this problem is very subtle. It happens within families and there is a shocking incidence in care services, whether they are in the home or provided by outside providers. I am involved in Tigh na nDaoine i gCaisleán Nua which operates a listening service - Good Morning South Tipperary. It is staffed by a wonderful set of volunteers who give of their time and meet every Monday morning. They telephone lonely and isolated people. I cannot recount the stories as they are confidential, but we hear the stories and about the loneliness when we have meetings to review and assess. Anybody who is involved in community alert or other voluntary organisations in the parishes that are trying to look after the vulnerable and people at risk knows them, as does the Minister. This legislation is an attempt to deal with the matter, but the Minister of State is high and mighty and against it.

There is another aspect to this and I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State. However, he is the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach with responsibility for defence. He is not looking after it very well either. Neither the Minister for Health nor the Minister for Justice and Equality could come to the House this evening, nor could the Minister from any of the other Departments that have anything to do with this legislation. It is a downright insult to the House. God help vulnerable people in the Defence Forces if they are depending on the Minister of State to defend them because they are not getting much of it. It is an insult that none of the Ministers I mentioned could attend the debate. They do not care. The same happens during the Topical Issue debate. The Ministers of State in various Departments are sent in to take it-----

Stick to the subject.

I am speaking about the subject of an arrogant Government and arrogant Ministers. They do not care about ordinary people. Ní neart go cur le chéile. That is what I support. The Government does not support anything only that it is mightier-----

Stick to the subject.

I am sticking to the subject.

Can we stay with the subject of the debate, please?

Give us a reason to support it.

I have given the reasons. I have quoted the figures and statistics. The HSE stated 8,000 people had called it last year.

It is fake news.

You are the fake news. You are the fake Government, as you will find out very soon. It will be a Rialtas imithe. The people saw through it in 2016 and they will see through it again with all of the issues. Patients are languishing on hospital trolleys. When people are sick or stressed, they cannot receive treatment. They cannot gain access to GPs who are being punished and banished from rural Ireland. The Government will not reappoint a GP. Deputy Butler and I have been fighting for the last six months to have a GP appointed-----

Stick to the subject.

I am speaking about vulnerable people. The Minister of State might not care about them, no more than he cared about the farmer I went to help. He was looking out over his own ditch in County Wexford. He knows all about it. The truth hurts.

Can we focus on the subject, please?

It is fake news.

The Minister of State is the fake news. He left the soldiers, our proud peacekeepers, abandoned in Syria for two weeks after they were supposed to come home. He could not even organise the flights. I do not know if he will find his way home to County Wexford tonight. If it is dry, he probably will, but if there is fog, he will probably get lost and end up in Dungarvan or somewhere else.

Question put.

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 8 November 2018.

The Dáil adjourned at 7 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 6 November 2018.