I remind members, delegates and persons in the Visitors Gallery to turn off their mobile phones as they interfere with the sound system.
We will consider petition No. P000013/17 from Ms Tara O'Sullivan on how to make the new English junior certificate examination fairer by adding 30 extra minutes. I welcome Ms O'Sullivan and her colleagues. She submitted the petition in her own name but in so doing was assisted by three of her fellow students, Ms Adrianne Ward, Ms Ellen McKimm and Ms Faye Dolan who have accompanied her to present it. We are delighted to have them before the committee. This is a significant day for them as secondary school students in appearing before a parliamentary committee, as it is for members. They are the first petitioners to be invited to appear before the committee since it was established in July 2016. It is, therefore, a momentous occasion for those on both sides of the equation. We compliment them on taking the initiative and, as third year secondary school students, participating in the petitions process. They have submitted a petition on an issue about which they all feel passionately. It took great strength of character to have the confidence to engage in the petitions process. As Chairman of the committee, I want to see more engagement of this nature. The committee is absolutely delighted that we have four formidable young people who are blazing a trail and setting the benchmark. We also welcome their parents and members of the school community who are in the Visitors Gallery. I am sure they are all extremely proud in seeing four formidable young women presenting before a parliamentary committee.
Before I invite Ms O'Sullivan to make her submission, I wish to update her on a few developments. The committee deliberated once again on the petition in private session and agreed to further actions in it progression. It has agreed to forward to her a copy of the latest response received from the Department of Education and Skills. We will seek submissions from the Irish Second-Level Students Union and the Teaching Council of Ireland on their views on the duration of the English junior certificate examination and the importance of holding mock examinations. We will invite the State Examinations Commission to appear once again before the committee in early 2018 - because of the nature of the work programme, it will not happen before then - to provide an update on the progress made in its engagement with stakeholders and their feedback on the service it provides.
Ms O'Sullivan made a pertinent and appropriate point about the use of plain English. It was well made. The committee is acutely conscious of it and will have further discussions on how we can work through the issues involved. It is important that those who petition Parliament do not face impenetrable language. The language used has to be as accessible as possible to all people, regardless of who they are. The point was well made and we are working on the issue. I ask Ms O'Sullivan to address the petition and take at face value that we are working through the plain English element. In advance of her commencing her presentation, in accordance with procedure - this is where the language used gets at little legalistic - it is important that I read the note on privilege which is part of our protocols in Parliament.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to 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 asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are 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. A copy of the petition has been circulated to them.
Without further ado, I invite Ms O'Sullivan to make her submission.