I wish to provide clarification on the serious issues for the benefit of the Deputy. During the meeting, I listened carefully to his contribution and there was nothing wrong whatsoever with his style. It was a cogently presented set of remarks and questions. We can agree everything that was asked related to the remit of the Prison Service.
As Chairman, I came to the view that some of the remarks that were made related to behaviour that may have involved criminality. I felt that it was my duty as the Chairman of a committee, and as an individual, that if remarks relating to potential criminality were highlighted to me, they should be referred to An Garda Síochána. I stated last week that the entire transcript, including the issues raised by the Deputy, needed to be investigated in respect of criminality, such as theft of State property and other items, within the Prison Service. I stated I would send the transcript to An Garda Síochána, which I did via the superintendent in Pearse Street, which is the division of An Garda Síochána in which Leinster House is based. I have carried out, therefore, what I indicated at the meeting that I would.
All committees are conducted through the Chairperson. All questions are put through the Chairperson, who, in turn, puts them to the witnesses. That is a well-established principle. To allow for free-flowing meetings, I regularly let people ask and answer questions directly but it is always understood that the questions are put through the Chairperson. Under Standing Orders, it is the duty of the Chairperson to chair the meeting and all questions are asked through him or her. When issues were raised by a member with me as Chairman, I made an early judgment that some of the issues involved criminal activity. I had a simple choice. I could have put the questions to the Accounting Officer, who would follow them up and revert in due course to the committee, or, if I considered the matters to be very serious, I could decide to put the questions directly to An Garda Síochána for its investigation. I chose the latter option. Due to the nature of what was said, I felt that it would be more appropriate if some of the remarks were forwarded to An Garda Síochána for its consideration and for any action it may or may not choose to take, rather than ignoring the potential criminality that was highlighted during the meeting and, as if nothing had happened, putting it to the witness as a routine question to be considered. As will have been seen at every meeting of the committee, members raise issues and ask questions and I invariably ask witnesses to respond directly to the committee in respect of the matter in order that the answer will be conveyed to the rest of the committee. I make the request on behalf of the committee. When I say it is a decision of the committee, I am making that decision, as Chairman, on behalf of the committee. It is not the case that the other members must vet anyone's questions.
To clarify the matter, I will read aloud a sentence that I read every morning at every meeting and that I will have to read three times later in the meeting because there are three witnesses. I state: "If witnesses are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence." That is the established process in the Oireachtas. If a witness is directed by a committee to cease giving evidence, he or she must do so. In practical terms, if the witness is requested to cease giving evidence, the request will be made by the Chairperson on behalf of the committee. Even though we state the committee can instruct a witness to cease giving evidence, the Chairperson, in fact, issues the instruction on behalf of the committee. When I stated at the previous meeting that it would be a matter for the committee to decide, I did not intend in any way to imply that members could veto other members' questions. As I make clear at every meeting, I, as Chairman, will make a ruling on behalf of the committee as to whether questions or answers are appropriate. I can give a warning accordingly, which is what I did at the previous meeting. In my role as Chairman, I indicated I was not willing to allow that question to be put through me to an Accounting Officer when, due to the seriousness of the matter, I would convey those questions to An Garda Síochána for consideration, which is what happened. Until I, on behalf of the committee, decide that the questions should be put to the Accounting Officer, they will not be. When I referred to the committee, it reflected the language used in the House. I refer back to the remarks that I will make three times later in the meeting. The instruction about the committee potentially asking someone to cease giving evidence means, in practice, that the Chairperson can issue such an instruction. That is how I interpreted it. I did not mean the individual members of the committee but rather that if I, as Chairman, wished to conduct a meeting in such a way and decided, on behalf of the committee, that those questions should not be put to the Accounting Officer, I would convey them to An Garda Síochána. That is the basis for my decision and I am fully satisfied with the correctness of my approach.