No apologies have been received. I understand that Deputy Devlin may be late joining us due to prior commitments.
I will begin by welcoming all to this online meeting. Due to the current situation regarding Covid-19, the clerk, support staff and I are in the committee room. We are joined in person by Deputy Sherlock as he cannot attend remotely due to technical issues. You are all very welcome. The remaining members of the committee are attending remotely from within the precincts of Leinster House. This is due to the constitutional requirement that in order to participate in public meetings Members must be physically present within the confines of the place where the Parliament has chosen to sit, namely, Leinster House or the convention centre. I will ask members to confirm their location before contributing to ensure they are adhering to the constitutional requirement.
The Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, is a permanent witness to the committee and is attending remotely. Today we engage with officials from the Department of Transport to examine the 2019 Appropriation Accounts, specifically Vote 31 - Transport, Tourism and Sport, and expenditure related to the following matters: BusConnects, the driver licence and testing process, the western rail corridor and the search and rescue contract. We are joined remotely from outside the precincts of Leinster House by the following officials from the Department of Transport: Mr. Ken Spratt, Secretary General; Mr. Fintan Towey, assistant secretary general, aviation sector; Mr. Garret Doocey, principal officer, sustainable mobility investment division; Mr. Dominic Mullaney, principal officer, regional and local roads division; Mr. Eugene Clonan, principal officer and acting director, the Irish Coast Guard; and Mr. Ray O'Leary, assistant secretary general, land transport. We are joined remotely from within the precincts of Leinster House by Ms Niamh Callaghan, principal officer in the transport, tourism and sport Vote section at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. They are all very welcome.
When we begin to engage, I will ask members and witnesses to mute themselves when not contributing so we do not pick up any background noise or feedback. As usual, I remind all those in attendance to ensure that their mobile phones are on silent mode or switched off. Before we start, I will explain some limitations to parliamentary privilege and the practice of the House 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, pursuant to both the Constitution and statute, by absolute privilege. However, a number of today's witnesses are giving evidence remotely, from a place outside the precincts of the Parliament, and, as such, they 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.
Members are reminded of the provision 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 that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against any person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
To assist the broadcasting and debates services, I ask that members direct their questions to a specific witness. If the question is not directed to a specific witness, I ask each witness to state his or her name when first contributing. The fact that we are doing this virtually means proceedings will not always run as smoothly as at a meeting at which we are physically present, so I ask members and witnesses for their co-operation in that regard.
I now call on the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, to make his opening statement.