We will now examine the 2017 appropriation accounts, Vote 8 - Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. The Comptroller and Auditor General, Seamus McCarthy, is the auditor for the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. He is accompanied by Mr. Bernard Barron, partner with Mazars, which carries out the audit on behalf of the Comptroller and Auditor General. I think it is the first time the Committee of Public Accounts has examined the financial statements of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General in over 20 years. While many people will not remember that, we have a policy of trying to cover as many Votes as possible every year, which is why we are here today. We are also joined by Ms Colette Drinan, who is the Accounting Officer of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General, although some people think it is Mr. McCarthy, Mr. Andrew Harkness, director of audit, and Ms Mairead Leyden, senior auditor.
I remind witnesses and members to turn off their mobile telephones or switch them to airplane mode.
I advise witnesses that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee, through me as Chairperson, to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. While we expect witnesses to answer questions put by the committee clearly and with candour, witnesses can and should expect to be treated fairly and with respect and consideration at all times in accordance with the witness protocol.
I invite Mr. McCarthy to make his opening statement.