I welcome everyone to today's meeting, which is taking place on Microsoft Teams. We have received apologies from Senator Craughwell. I welcome Deputy Clarke from Longford Westmeath.
The Ceann Comhairle and Cathaoirleach have appealed to all in the parliamentary community to continue to follow public health advice, wear a mask and maintain social distancing. The Ceann Comhairle has asked that only the committee Chairs and required service staff should be present in committee rooms. All members should therefore attend committee meetings remotely from their offices within the Leinster House campus unless they are required to attend in person for voting in committee. Witnesses should not be requested to attend the committee room and should be facilitated in giving evidence remotely from within the precincts or from outside Leinster House subject to being advised that privilege may not apply to evidence given from outside the precincts. This will help to mitigate the risk of Covid-19, including the Delta and Omicron variants, spreading among the parliamentary community. Masks, preferably of a medical grade, should always be worn during the meeting, except when speaking. I ask for full co-operation in this.
I propose that we approve the minutes of the private and public meetings that took place on 24 and 25 November. The minutes were already agreed during our private session but we must agree them again now for procedural reasons. Are the minutes agreed? Agreed.
I remind members of the constitutional requirement that they must be physically present within the confines of the place in which Parliament has chosen to sit, namely, Leinster House, in order to participate in public meetings. I will not permit a member to participate where they are not adhering to this constitutional requirement. Therefore, any member who attempts to participate from outside the precincts will be asked to leave the meeting.
Before we start, I wish to explain some limitations to parliamentary privilege and the practice of the Houses as regard 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, the witnesses are giving 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 who is physically present does. Witnesses may think it appropriate to take legal advice on this matter.
The witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect 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 any of their statements made are potentially defamatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that the witnesses comply with any such direction.