On behalf of the committee, I welcome: Ms Joan Donegan, general secretary of the Irish Federation of University Teachers, IFUT; Ms Annette Dolan, deputy general secretary of the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI; and Ms Clare Austick, president of the Union of Students in Ireland, USI. The witnesses are here today to discuss the general scheme of the higher education authority Bill 2021 as part of the pre-legislative scrutiny process. The format of the meeting is that I will invite Ms Donegan to make an opening statement, followed by Ms Dolan and then Ms Austick. These statements will be followed by questions from members of the committee. Each member has a six-minute slot to ask questions and for the witnesses to respond. As the witnesses are probably aware, the committee will publish the opening statements on its 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 are giving evidence remotely from a place outside of the parliamentary precincts and, as such, may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness physically present does. They have already been advised that they may think it appropriate to take legal advice on this matter. They 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 might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that they comply with any such direction.
To get started, I call on Ms Donegan, our very first witness, to make her opening statement. She will be followed by the other witnesses as I outlined a few minutes ago. They have four minutes each.