Before we commence business, I remind members, witnesses and those in the Visitors Gallery that all mobile telephones should be switched off to avoid interference with the broadcasting of this meeting.
I welcome the officials from the Department of Finance to this meeting. We are joined by Mr. Feargal Ó Brolcháin, principal officer in the EU and international division, Mr. Antoine Mac Donncha, head of the legal unit, Mr. Enda Newton, senior lawyer in the financial services division and Mr. Paul Keogh, assistant principal officer in the financial services division. A written invitation to attend was sent to the Minister, Deputy Noonan, but I understand he is not in a position to attend.
The witnesses are here to assist the committee in its examination of the draft heads of the Central Bank Bill 2014. These draft heads were referred to the joint committee last Wednesday, 19 March and I understand the Minister intends to seek the approval of the Government next week to publish the Bill, with a view to enactment by the end of April or as soon as practical after that. Procedures relating to consideration by committees of the draft heads of Bills are relatively new and the Houses of the Oireachtas Service is finalising a protocol with Departments aimed at ensuring the system works smoothly and that committees can do their work properly. Timely notice of the heads of the Bill and adequate time for consideration at committee is part of this. That said, discussion will begin with opening remarks from Mr. Ó Brolcháin and Mr. Mac Donncha, following which members may put appropriate questions.
I advise witnesses that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in respect of a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.