The proceedings of Oireachtas committees will be conducted without the requirement for social distancing, with normal capacity in the committee rooms restored. Committees are encouraged, however, to take a gradual approach to this change. Members and witnesses have the option to attend meetings in the relevant committee room or online, through Microsoft Teams. All those attending in the committee room and environs should continue to sanitise and to wash their hands properly and often, and to avail of sanitiser outside and inside committee rooms, be respectful of other people's physical space and practise good respiratory etiquette. If they have any Covid symptoms, no matter how mild, they should not attend in the meeting room. Members and all in attendance are asked to exercise personal responsibility in protecting themselves and others from the risk of contracting Covid-19. Members are well aware that if they are participating in the meeting remotely, they are required to do so from within the Leinster House complex only. Apologies have been received from Deputy Bruton.
The main item for discussion today is the waiver of intellectual property protection in the context of the World Trade Organization agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, TRIPS, as it relates to Covid-19 vaccines. The TRIPS agreement is an international legal agreement between all member nations of the World Trade Organization, WTO, and any proposal for a potential variation or waiver of the current intellectual property protections under the TRIPS agreement is for negotiation at the WTO, of which Ireland is one of 164 members. Furthermore, at EU level, international trade is an EU competence such that the EU, as a single voice, represents the co-ordinated position of the 27 member states, including in discussions on TRIPS at the WTO. Universal and equitable access to vaccines is crucial in the global fight against Covid-19.
I am pleased that the committee has an opportunity to discuss this matter further with a number of representatives from the following organisations. I welcome the following: from Oxfam Ireland, Mr. Jim Clarken, chief executive; from Maynooth University's department of law, Professor Aisling McMahon; from Médecins Sans Frontières, Mr. Dimitri Eynikel, access campaign EU policy adviser; from St. Vincent's University Hospital, Dr. Christine Kelly; from the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association, Mr. Oliver O'Connor, chief executive; and from BioPharmaChem Ireland, Mr. Matt Moran, director, and Ms Nessa Fennelly, senior executive.
Before we start our discussion, I will explain some limitations to parliamentary privilege and the practices of the Houses as regards reference witnesses may make to other persons in their evidence. The evidence of witnesses physically present or who give evidence from within the parliamentary precincts is protected, pursuant to both the Constitution and statute, by absolute privilege. Witnesses 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, 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 respect of an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative they comply with any such direction.
The opening statements have been circulated to all members. To commence our consideration of this matter, I now invite Mr. Jim Clarken and Professor Aisling McMahon to make their opening remarks.