I remind members and witnesses to turn off their mobile telephones or switch them to flight mode as they interfere with the sound system and make it difficult for parliamentary reporters to report the meeting. Interference from mobile phones can also adversely affect television coverage and web streaming.
The purpose of this part of the meeting is to have an engagement with a number of stakeholders on education inequality and disadvantage, an issue about which all members, including me, feel strongly and passionately. On behalf of the joint committee, I welcome Dr. Katriona O'Sullivan, Maynooth University, Dr. John Bissett, community worker with the Canal Communities Local Drugs and Alcohol Task Force, Ms Sinéad Dooley, assistant CEO of Irish Rural Link, Ms Niamh Quinn, senior youth officer in Foróige, Ms Elizabeth Waters, CEO of An Cosán, Ms Deirdre Malone, executive director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, IPRT, Ms Olive McGovern, principal officer in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, and Caitriona O’Brien, principal officer in the social inclusion unit of the Department of Education and Skills.
We very much appreciate everybody coming. Two weeks ago when we looked at the programme we wanted to follow and the individuals we wanted to come before us, we were not sure whether we could get somebody from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to do so because of the direct line with the Minister. Therefore, we very much appreciate the fact that we have an opportunity to hear from Ms McGovern and ask her questions.
The format of this part of the meeting is that I will invite the delegates to make a briefing opening statement of a maximum of three minute duration. It will be followed by engagement with members of the committee. Of course, prior to the meeting we also received the formal written submissions.
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 joint 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 entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I advise them that any opening statement they make and their written submission will be published on the committee's website after the meeting.
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.
I invite Dr. O'Sullivan to make her opening statement on behalf of NUI Maynooth.