I remind members and witnesses to turn off their mobile phones as they interfere with the sound system, causing difficulties for parliamentary reporters, and television coverage and web streaming can be impacted as well. Will the Deputies and Senators please resume their seats?
We are moving to No. 6 on our agenda, which is engagement with stakeholders on the status of non-teaching staff in schools. There is no doubt that schools are very complex places and that there are a number of people working in schools to make sure that our children get the best possible education they can. While the leadership in terms of education lies with the principal and the instruction of teaching lies with the teachers, there are a number of non-teaching staff, including special needs assistants, SNAs, as well as secretaries, caretakers, cleaners, and bus escorts, who do an incredible amount of work to make sure that the essential operations of a school are functioning. They all support continued successful education within their schools. Today we will be listening to the views of the stakeholders and witnesses on the current status of non-teaching staff, how that may impact on students and on the school community as a whole, and whether this has any impact on the effective delivery of education within our schools. We will then get an opportunity to ask them about that.
It is not our function as a committee to deal with pay and conditions, purely to deal with any impact that the status of non-teaching staff can have on the delivery of education within a school.
I welcome the stakeholders who are present: Ms Nessa White, general secretary of Education and Training Boards Ireland, ETBI; Mr. Paul Fiorentini, president of the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools, ACCS; Mr. David Duffy, education and research officer from the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI; Mr. Andy Pike, national secretary of Fórsa; Ms Breda Lynch, president of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland, ASTI; and Ms Tara Carton, principal officer with the Department of Education and Skills. The format of this part of the meeting is that I will invite the witnesses to make a brief opening statement of a maximum of three minutes, which will be followed by an engagement with members of the committee.
Before we begin, I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a 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 they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or 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 House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I also advise the witnesses that any opening statements they make to the committee will be published on the committee website after this meeting. I invite Ms White to make her opening statement on behalf of the ETBI.