Everyone is very welcome. There are several non-members present as well as members. We look forward to hearing their views. I remind members and witnesses to turn off their mobile phones or put them in flight mode. While they might not make noise they can still interfere with the sound recording, which will not become apparent until after the meeting.
The purpose of today's meeting is to have an engagement with a number of stakeholders who have made written submissions on the topic of women's shelters and domestic abuse refuges. All witnesses are appearing virtually from a location outside Leinster House and all Members are in Leinster House. I welcome our witnesses: Ms Mary McDermott, CEO of Safe Ireland; Ms Lisa Marmion, services development manager at Safe Ireland; Ms Allison Graham, CEO of Saoirse Domestic Violence Services; Ms Kathrina Bentley, CEO of Men’s Aid; and Ms Christina Sherlock, head of strategic communications and fundraising at Women’s Aid.
The witnesses are all welcome. As usual, we also have an observer from the Department of Justice, Mr. Ben Ryan, assistant secretary, attending the committee. He is also very welcome.
Turning to a little bit of housekeeping, I ask the witnesses connecting to the meeting remotely to unmute their device when they are speaking so we can hear them, but then to re-mute their microphone when they are not speaking to ensure that we do not have any interference in the background. I ask the members participating remotely to note that point as well. I think everyone can hear me okay and we are all hooked up.
Another piece of housekeeping involves a note on parliamentary privilege, but it has implications for what can and cannot be said and what should and should not be said. All witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not criticise or make charges against a person or entity by name or in such a manner 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 not represented in the room. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in regard to an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. I request everyone to note that point as good order. For witnesses attending remotely, and some witnesses of necessity are participating from outside the precincts of Leinster House, as is the norm these days, I ask them to note that there are potentially some limitations to the parliamentary privilege they will enjoy. If they were in a position to be physically present, they would have a higher degree of immunity. I ask that that point be noted because if there was a challenge in respect of something said by people off-site, they might not enjoy the same full immunity as if they were present here in the building. There is not much we can do about that situation. We are where we are, as the saying goes. Members are advised similarly, although I understand they are on the campus and enjoy absolute privilege, at least when they are on the campus.
The format of the meeting is that I will invite a representative from each of the participating organisations to make an opening statement for three minutes. Organisations with more than one speaker can divide the time between them, but it is three minutes per organisation. Once the opening statements have been delivered, I will then call the members of the committee and the other members present to put their questions. I will take members in the order they indicate. For everybody's benefit, we have a system in this committee where we have a first round of engagement with the normal members of the committee for seven minutes. Those seven minutes include time for the questions and the responses. Therefore, if members choose to have a long preamble and a short time for a response, that is fine and it is their decision. Equally, though, some members choose to ask short snappy questions and then leave more time for responses, and perhaps some to and fro afterwards. The seven-minute allocation includes the questions and the answers, however. When we have completed the first round of questioning with the members of the committee, I will then invite non-members to come in. The protocol is that they will also have seven minutes for their questions and answers. Once that process is complete, we will then take a second round of questions, if any remain. The second round will be a little bit shorter, at four minutes for each participant. That is how we do it. I hope it makes sense. It is intended to enable equal time to all and it is good housekeeping.
I will call a representative of each organisation now to deliver an opening statement. I call Ms McDermott to lead us off. She has three minutes.