Members and witnesses are requested to use the wipes and hand sanitisers provided to clean any shared seats and desks to supplement regular sanitisation. I remind all members to use the hand sanitiser in front of them throughout the meeting. I also remind members to ensure their mobile phones are switched off for the duration of the meeting as they interfere with the broadcasting equipment, even when in silent mode.
In this session we are meeting representatives of the Irish Universities Association. On behalf of the committee, I welcome Mr. Jim Miley, director general of the Irish Universities Association; Dr. Lisa Keating, director of research for the association; Dr. Patrick Prendergast, a proud Wexford man and provost of Trinity College Dublin; and Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, president of the National University of Ireland, Galway. I apologise to the professor for my pronunciation of his name; my Irish was not great at school. He is joining us remotely from Galway. Our witnesses are with us today to discuss the effect of Covid-19 on higher education institutions with specific regard to admissions, the reopening of universities, the delivery of courses, funding and future reforms.
Before we begin, I take the opportunity to thank the academic staff of Dublin City University, DCU, for appearing before the committee on 5 November and for their ongoing support and sharing of knowledge and expertise with regard to the issue of bullying in schools. Dr. Paul Downes of DCU will also attend on 17 December. I thank those staff members.
The format of the meeting this morning is that I will invite Dr. Prendergast to make a brief opening statement which will be followed by questions from members of the committee. Each member has four minutes to ask questions and for the witnesses to respond. As the witnesses are probably aware, the committee will publish any opening statements on the website following the 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.
Professor Ó hÓgartaigh in Galway is giving evidence from a place outside the parliamentary precincts. As such, he may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as witnesses who are physically present.
He has already been advised of this and I thank him for that.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him or her or it identifiable, or otherwise engage in speech that may be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. Therefore, if a member's statement is potentially defamatory with regard to an identified person or entity, he or she will be directed to discontinue his or her remarks.
I call on Dr. Prendergast to make his opening statement. He has five minutes. I am aware we have another group coming in, so we will have a full hour from now. We should not, under Covid-19 rules, but I will stretch the meeting to make sure we have an hour with the witnesses present.