Our second session today is to discuss the increasingly important role played by assistance dogs in helping a range of families across our communities and the measures needed to regulate for quality assistance dogs to play a caring, therapeutic role into the future. We are joined by representatives of the Irish Assistance Dogs umbrella group, which represents a number of organisations working with assistance dogs. I welcome Dr. Louise Burgoyne from University College Cork, UCC, who is carrying out research into best practice in the area, Ms Jennifer Dowler, CEO of Irish Dogs for the Disabled and Mr. Andrew Geary, parent representative with Irish Dogs for the Disabled. I thank Mr. Geary for his assistance in organising today's meeting.
I also welcome Ms Lean Kennedy, Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, Ms Nuala Geraghty, Autism Assistance Dogs Ireland, and Ms Sinead Dutton, My Canine Companion, who will participate in the questions and answers session after the opening statements. I also welcome some special guests in the Visitors Gallery, in particular Oisín and his dog Oscar and Olivia and her dog Fifi.
I remind the committee and our witnesses of the position regarding privilege. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They 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 or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded 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.
I invite Dr. Burgoyne to make her opening remarks. She has approximately four minutes for her presentation.