Apologies have been received from Deputy Sherlock. Deputies Dillon and Carroll MacNeill will be a bit late because of parliamentary duties and other engagements.
I welcome everyone to the meeting. While Covid-19 restrictions are receding and it is open to members and witnesses to attend meetings in person, please continue to wear face coverings when not addressing the meeting.
Members of the committee attending remotely must continue to do so 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 Parliament has chosen to sit.
The Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, is a permanent witness to the committee. He is accompanied by Ms Paula O’Connor, deputy director of audit.
This morning we engage with officials from the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, to examine its 2020 financial statements. The RTB has been advised that the committee may also wish to examine the following matters during the course of the engagement: the landlord registration system, including the number of prosecutions; compliance of landlords with the Revenue Commissioners; inspections of housing assistance payment, HAP, properties; the RTB’s dispute-resolution mechanism; staffing levels and retention; the RTB’s preferred model for tenant deposits, adjudications, and European best practice; and the number of landlords leaving the market.
We are joined in the committee room by the following officials from the RTB: Mr. Tom Dunne, chairperson; Mr. Niall Byrne, director; Mr. Bryan Kelly, head of finance, governance and risk management; and Ms Caren Gallagher, head of communications and research. They are all very welcome.
When we begin to engage, I ask those attending remotely to mute themselves when not contributing so that we do not pick up any background noise or feedback and, as usual, I remind all those in attendance to ensure their mobile phones are switched off or on silent mode.
I wish to explain some limitations to parliamentary privilege, and the practice of the Houses in respect of reference witnesses may make to other persons in their evidence. As they are within the precincts of the Parliament, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the presentation they make to the committee. This means that they have an absolute defence against any defamation action for anything they may say at the meeting. However, they are expected not to abuse this privilege and it is my duty as Cathaoirleach to ensure that it is not abused. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in respect of an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue and it is imperative that they comply with that.
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 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 now call on the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, to make his opening statement.