I remind members and witnesses that they are requested to use the wipes and hand sanitisers provided to clean seats and desks in order to supplement the regular sanitisation. We have our four witnesses in four separate chairs but I remind people to use the hand sanitisers in front of them regularly throughout the meeting.
I remind members to ensure that their mobiles are switched off for the duration of the meeting as they interfere with the broadcasting equipment even when on silent mode.
On behalf of the committee, I welcome Mr. Kieran Christie, general secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland, ASTI; Mr. Andy Pike, head of education at Fórsa; Mr. John Boyle, general secretary of the Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO; and Mr. Michael Gillespie, general secretary of the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI.
The witnesses have appeared to discuss a very important issue, namely, ensuring schools are open in a safe and sustainable manner. As for the format of the meeting, I will invite the witnesses to make opening statements of two minutes each, which will be followed by questions from members of the committee. As the witnesses will probably be aware, the committee will publish the opening statements on its website following this meeting.
Before we begin, I remind members 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.
The witnesses should note that they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their presentations to the committee. This means they have an absolute defence against any defamation action for anything they say at the meeting. They are, however, expected not to abuse this privilege and it is my duty as Chairman to ensure that the privilege is not abused. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory of an identifiable person or entity, I will direct them to discontinue their remarks, and it is imperative that they comply with any such direction.
First we will have the opening presentations, and then each member will have six minutes to ask questions and for the witnesses to reply. I will cut them off after the six minutes is over. I ask that when members ask their questions, they direct them at whichever witness they want to reply to them.
Mr. Christie may begin, followed by Mr. Pike, Mr. Boyle and, finally, Mr. Gillespie. They have two minutes each.