The purpose of today's meeting is to have a discussion on ensuring schools are open in a safe and sustainable manner. On behalf of the committee, I welcome Ms Áine Lynch, CEO of the National Parents Council Primary; Ms Mai Fanning, president, National Parents Council Post-Primary, and Mr. Reuban Murray, president of the Irish Second-Level Students Union, ISSU.
Following on from the committee's previous engagement with the school associations and the Minister, the witnesses will discuss the important issue of ensuring schools remain open in a safe and sustainable manner. Before we do so, I would like to highlight another landmark for this committee. Mr. Reuban Murray, a secondary school student, is here to represent the voices of young students throughout the country. This is important. The committee is committed to ensuring that young people's voices are heard. It is a great honour to have Mr. Murray here today. I can assure him that the committee will listen to his valuable insight and the concerns of the ISSU. Mr. Murray has an important role to play in making those voices heard. The committee is impressed with and grateful for the survey Mr. Murray conducted to assist it in its work on this issue. This shows his commitment and dedication to Irish education. I also thank Ms Lynch and Ms Fanning for attending to represent primary and post-primary education.
In terms of the format of the meeting, I will invite the witnesses to make a brief opening statement, which will be followed by questions from members of the committee. Each member has a six-minute slot in which to ask his or her questions and for the witnesses to respond. I will cut off witnesses and members after six minutes. Members may put specific questions to witnesses individually.
Senator O'Loughlin, the Vice Chairman, has agreed to chair the committee from 1 p.m. to 1.30 p.m. so that Members of the Dáil can travel to the convention centre for business. I thank members for their forbearance on the revised speaking slots. 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.
I now invite Ms Lynch to make her opening statement, followed by Ms Fanning and Mr. Murray.