Good morning. I would like to welcome everyone to this public meeting of the Joint Committee on Autism. We have received apologies from Senator Garvey. Before we start business today, I would like to read some formal notices and the Covid-19 code of conduct. The Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil, Deputy Ó Fearghaíl, and the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Senator Mark Daly, published a Covid-19 code of conduct for the parliamentary community in May 2022. Members, staff and visitors are requested to continue to be vigilant and follow public health advice on preventing the spread of Covid-19 infection so that we can continue to manage risk for ourselves and for others who are more vulnerable, including colleagues and their family members who may be elderly or have underlying health conditions or both. All members of the parliamentary community and visitors are strongly encouraged to wear face masks, not a visor, in busy or crowded locations in the Leinster House complex.
Medical grade masks should be worn wherever recommended by public health advice, and for ten days after a diagnosis of Covid-19. This will help to reduce the risk of Covid-19 spreading among the parliamentary community. I ask for everyone's full co-operation on this matter.
On privilege, I remind members of the constitutional requirement that they must be physically present within the confines of the place where Parliament has chosen to sit, namely, Leinster House, in order 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 parliamentary precincts will be asked to leave the meeting.
For the information of the witnesses, I wish to explain some limitations to parliamentary privilege and the practice of the Houses as regards references 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 the Constitution and statute, by absolute privilege. They 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 that person or entity. Therefore, if witnesses' statements are potentially defamatory of an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that they comply with any such direction.
The first item on the agenda is the minutes from our previous meeting, the private meeting held on 14 July 2022. These minutes were already approved at a virtual private meeting but I ask for their approval in public session. Is that agreed? Agreed.
On behalf of the committee, I would like to extend a very warm welcome to the parents' groups who are with us today. We are joined by Ms Ger Kenny, Ms Ciara Jones and Ms Caroline Poole from the Autism Support Hub based in Luttrelstown in Dublin; Ms Margaret Lowndes from the Dublin 12 Campaign for Autism Inclusion; Ms Karen O'Mahony, CEO of the Rainbow Club in Cork; and Ms Sarah Murphy, Ms Miriam Jennings and Ms Elaine Jenkins from the special needs schools and classes. We are very grateful to our witnesses for taking time out of their schedules to contribute to the public session of the joint committee on autism. We are particularly grateful as it can be particularly challenging to make arrangements, especially during school time.
The committee is pleased to hear directly from parents today as they have first-hand lived experience of the challenges associated with accessing assessments, school facilities and, indeed, services for their children. It is imperative to the work of this committee that we hear from families of autistic persons and to ensure their views inform our committee's final report. Before we hear from our witnesses, I propose that we publish their opening statements on the committee's website. Is that agreed? Agreed.
We will now hear opening statements from our witnesses and we will then have questions and answers with members. I propose that each organisation represented here has five minutes to make its opening statement. Each member will have five minutes for questions and answers. We will call members in accordance with the list we circulated. If there is time afterwards, members may ask additional questions. As this session is scheduled to last a full three hours rather than a split session of one and a half hours each, I suggest we take a five-minute sos, roughly one and a half hours into the session. Is that agreed? Agreed.
First, we will hear from Ms Ciara Jones from the Autism Support Hub.