I welcome everybody to this online meeting. Due to the current situation regarding Covid-19, only the clerk, support staff and I are in the committee room. Members of the committee are attending remotely from within the precincts of Leinster House. This is due to the constitutional requirement that members must be physically present within the confines of the place in which Parliament has chosen to sit, namely, Leinster House or the Convention Centre Dublin, in order to participate in public meetings. I will not permit a member to participate if he or she is not adhering to this constitutional requirement. The Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, is a permanent witness to the committee and he is also attending remotely.
Today, we are engaging with officials from the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board to discuss its 2019 financial statement. To assist us we are joined remotely by the following officials from the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board: Mr. David Gunning, chief officer; Mr. Phelim Devine, project director; Mr. Jim Farragher, finance manager; Dr. Emma Curtis, medical director; and from the Department of Health by Mr. Greg Dempsey, deputy secretary general. I welcome you all to the meeting.
When we begin to engage, I ask members and witnesses to mute their computers when not contributing so we do not pick up any background noise or feedback. I also ask that contributors use the button to raise their hand when they wish to contribute and that they remove their masks when speaking to ensure they can be heard properly. As usual, I remind all those in attendance to ensure their mobile telephones are on silent mode or switched off. When they finish speaking they should take down their hand signal.
I also wish to explain some limitations to parliamentary privilege and the practice of the Houses as regards references witnesses may make to other persons in their evidence. The evidence of witnesses physically present or who give evidence from within the parliamentary precincts is protected by absolute privilege, pursuant to both the Constitution and statute. However, a number of today’s witnesses are giving their evidence remotely, from a place outside of the parliamentary precincts, and as such may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness physically present does. Such witnesses have already been advised that they may think it appropriate to take legal advice on this matter.
Witnesses are also reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity, by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable, or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory with regard to an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that they comply with any such direction.
Members are reminded of the provisions of 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.
To assist our broadcasting and debates services, I ask members, where possible, to direct their questions to a specific witness. If a witness has not been referred to, I ask the witness to state his or her name before responding.
Before I ask for the witnesses’ opening statements, I must make members aware that on Friday I received correspondence from the interim Secretary General of the Department of Health, Mr. Robert Watt, concerning the difficulty in discussing cost and timelines for completion of the hospital until the board and the Department finalise an analysis of these matters, which is currently ongoing. I responded that the matters raised by the interim Secretary General could be addressed as part of today’s opening statement. The correspondence will come before the committee on Thursday.
I invite the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, to make his opening statement.