I welcome everybody to our public virtual meeting this afternoon using Microsoft Teams. I thank the Business Committee for agreeing to this public meeting of the Committee on Public Petitions during the level 5 restrictions. We have made every effort to mitigate the risk of the new variants of Covid-19 to members, witnesses and staff. Apologies have been received from Deputy Griffin and Senator Gerard Craughwell.
I must read some formal notices. Members, witnesses and staff are requested to use the wipes and hand sanitizer provided to clean seats and desks that are shared so as to supplement regular sanitation. This will help to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 spreading among the parliamentary community.
I remind members of the constitutional requirements that they must be physically present within the confines of the places in which Parliament has chosen to sit, namely, Leinster House and-or the Convention Centre Dublin, to participate in public meetings. I will not permit a member to participate where he or she is not adhering to this constitutional requirement. Therefore, any member who attempts to participate from outside the precincts will be asked to leave the meeting. Are all members of the committee within the precincts of Leinster House or the Convention Centre Dublin? As the members have indicated in the affirmative, I will proceed.
I wish to explain to the witnesses some limitations to parliamentary privilege and the practice of the Houses as regards reference they 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, the witnesses are giving evidence remotely from a place outside of the parliamentary precincts, and as such they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness who is physically present. Witnesses may think it appropriate to take legal advice on this matter. Witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a 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 statements are potentially defamatory in regard to an identifiable person or entity, witnesses will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative they comply with any such direction.
I will now to the discussion on the terms of reference of the committee. The first witness to address the first meeting of the then Joint Committee on Investigations, Oversight and Petitions on 20 July 2011 was the then Ombudsman, Ms Emily O'Reilly, who discussed the terms of reference of the committee, including the relationship between the Ombudsman and the Houses of the Oireachtas. Since 2011, many Ombudsmen have appeared before the committee and other committees considering their annual and special reports. However, ten years later, we are once again reviewing the terms of reference of the committee, including the relationship with the Ombudsman.
On behalf of the committee I would like to extend a warm welcome to the following witnesses from the Irish Ombudsman Forum: Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring, chair of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission; and Mr. Peter Tyndall, Ombudsman. The witnesses will have ten minutes to make their opening statements and members will have five minutes each for questions and answers. We should have enough time to have a second round of questions. I invite Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring to make her opening statement. She will be followed by the Ombudsman, Mr. Peter Tyndall.