We are joined remotely by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, as our permanent witness to the committee. I have received apologies from the Chairman, Deputy Stanley, and from Deputies Verona Murphy and Colm Burke. I remind all those in attendance to ensure their mobile phones are on silent mode or switched off.
Today is the second day of a two-day engagement with officials from the Department of Justice. Officials from the Irish Prison Service are also in attendance today to assist us in examining the following: from the Comptroller and Auditor General's appropriation account for 2019, Vote 21 – Prisons, and from the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report on the accounts of the public service 2019, Chapter 7 – catering and ancillary services in prisons.
With regard to public health guidelines, we are joined in person by Ms Oonagh McPhillips, Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Accounting Officer for Vote 21 - Prisons, Ms Caron McCaffrey, director general of the Irish Prison Service - it is all very female today - and Mr. Fergal Black, director of care and rehabilitation in the Irish Prison Service.
We are also joined remotely by Mr. Don Culliton, director of human resources in the Irish Prison Service; Mr. Derek Caldbeck, director of finance and estates in the Irish Prison Service; Mr. Doncha O’Sullivan, assistant secretary at the Department of Justice; and Mr. Liam Gleeson, from the justice Vote section at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
I welcome all the witnesses to the meeting and I thank them and the staff in the Department of Justice for the briefing material they have prepared for the committee. Witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the presentation they make to the committee. This means witnesses have an absolute defence against any defamation action for anything they say at the meeting. Witnesses, however, are expected not to abuse this privilege and it is my duty as Vice Chairman to ensure this privilege is not abused. Therefore, if witnesses' statements are potentially defamatory with regard to any identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that witnesses comply with any such direction.
While we expect witnesses to answer questions asked by the committee clearly and frankly, witnesses can and should expect to be treated fairly and with respect and consideration at all times, in accordance with the witness protocol.
Members are reminded of the provisions within Standing Order 218 that the committee shall refrain from inquiring into the merits of a policy or policies of the Government or a Minister of the Government or the merits of the objectives of such policies. Members are also reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I ask that members and witnesses remove their masks when speaking to ensure they can be heard, and that when members are leaving and are taking their seats that they sanitise their area. I call on the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, to make his opening statement.