Adult safeguarding in Northern Ireland 'not fit for purpose'
Older people in Northern Ireland have been left "vulnerable to abuse" due to a lack of safeguarding legislation, according to a leading charity.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK and Ireland without specific adult protection laws.
Action on Elder Abuse said older people were "subject to a postcode lottery".
"We have legislation to protect children from abuse and animals from cruelty," said the charity's deputy chief executive Veronica Gray.
"But with a rapidly aging population we remain the only part of the UK and Ireland without dedicated laws to protect older people from abuse, harm and exploitation."
The Department of Health said it was looking at what urgent steps could be taken to strengthen adult safeguarding in Northern Ireland.
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Safeguarding provisions for adults in Northern Ireland were "not fit for purpose", said Mrs Gray, adding that the lack of laws left people "vulnerable to abuse".
She criticised the current lack of devolved institutions.
"We've heard countless calls to establish adult safeguarding legalisation in Northern Ireland," she said.
"We are calling now on our politicians to deliver devolved government to progress this issue and protect those who are vulnerable," she added.
'Brunt of Troubles'
Northern Ireland has been without a functioning executive since January 2017, when the two governing parties - the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin - split in a bitter row.
"Since the fall of the assembly we've seen an increased reliance on charities to step in to meet the needs of the people," said Ms Gray.
"Our older population bore the brunt of the Troubles, and now they're being failed by the institutions designed to protect them. This cannot continue."
Ms Gray highlighted the ongoing scandal involving allegations of abuse of patients at Muckamore Abbey Hospital.
She also cited Dunmurry Manor Care Home which came under scrutiny after a damning report from the Commissioner for Older People in Northern Ireland was published in June.
A 2016 COPNI report showed older people in Northern Ireland were at a higher risk of experiencing financial abuse than elsewhere in the UK, said Mrs Gray.
The report showed that 21% of over-60s in Northern Ireland have reported being victim to financial abuse.
That compares with 0.7% of older people across Great Britain.
The Department of Health said: "The Commissioner for Older People recommended the introduction of an adult safeguarding bill for Northern Ireland in his Home Truths report.
"We also expect the independent review of events at Dunmurry Manor to be submitting a report to the Department soon, which will consider issues related to adult safeguarding.
"In response to those reviews we have been and will be considering what urgent steps we can take to strengthen adult safeguarding in Northern Ireland in the absence of a health minister and an assembly."