Apologies have been received from Senator Fiona O'Loughlin.
It is a great honour to be appointed Chairman of the joint committee. This is my first time to be the Chairman of a committee in my 18.5 years in the Oireachtas, so I ask for people's forbearance, for my first meeting anyway. I look forward to working with every one of you in a genuine spirit of partnership and co-operation. I am very confident that we will bring our combined skills and enthusiasm to bear to make this a highly productive committee that discharges its functions in an efficient and enlightened way.
I wish to introduce Tara Kelly who is the clerk to the committee. If members have any problems they can go to Tara, and to me, or contact us by email.
I welcome members, especially those who are newly elected Members of the Dáil and the Seanad. I pay tribute to the members of the former Joint Committee on Education and Skills who brought their own experience and knowledge to the workings of the committee. I hope this committee will be equally effective as that committee. I anticipate that this committee will refer to, and build on, the valuable work carried out by that committee. It identified key issues in education that need to be addressed. Many issues need to be addressed because we are going through very difficult times. Ireland and the wider world has changed fundamentally since the previous committee was dissolved. We have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and our lives have been altered in ways we simply could not have envisaged only a short time ago. In addition, the UK is due to leave the EU on 31 December this year in what may be a no-deal scenario. In this changed reality, I strongly believe that education at all levels will face significant challenges to continue to provide world-class educational opportunities for all our students. They deserve no less as they face a very different future in how they learn and, ultimately, progress to meaningful job opportunities or to retrain at a later stage in their lives.
It is also imperative that we continue to provide the crucial education supports needed for those with special needs or those who, because of their circumstances, are at risk of educational disadvantage.
This country has come a long way in cherishing all of our citizens in equal measure. We must continue to build on that strong foundation.
Education has a hugely important role in young people's mental health and has never been more important than in this Covid-19 emergency. Schools, further and higher education institutions all play a significant part in educating young people on positive mental health and equally on preventive measures to assist those who are at serious risk from bad mental health. In this context, actively combating school bullying, including cyberbullying, is of paramount importance to the committee and to me personally. In this digital age, research, innovation and science will play a pivotal role in shaping all our futures, particularly in our small open economy. Ireland has a distinct advantage in having a highly educated workforce. We must ensure that remains the case. In this regard, it will be important to work in solidarity with our European partners and internationally to fully develop our research and innovation capacity. I hope that all our collective endeavours in the committee will feed into and support the efforts of both Ministers in the Departments of education and higher education who I am confident will secure Ireland's reputation as a country that truly values and supports education, science research and innovation.
I will endeavour to be as fair and as impartial as possible to all committee members. I believe strongly that a united report where all members contribute and feel comfortable and their efforts are worthwhile will yield the best results from the committee.