Apologies have been received from Senator Katherine Zappone. The purpose of this meeting is to have an engagement with some of those who made a written submission to the committee on the general scheme of the criminal justice (victims of crime) Bill. I ask everybody to turn off mobile phones or put them on airplane or silent mode as they interfere with the recording system.
From the Victims' Rights Alliance, we are joined by Ms Maria McDonald and Ms Joan Deane. From SAFE Ireland, we are joined by Ms Caitríona Gleeson. From Rape Crisis Network Ireland, we are joined by Dr. Clíona Saidléar. From the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, we are joined by Ms Grainia Long and Ms Mary Nicholson. From the Irish Penal Reform Trust, we are joined by Ms Deirdre Malone. From the Children's Rights Alliance, we are joined by Ms Catriona Doherty. From Facing Forward, we are joined by Mr. Niall Counihan and Ms Jacinta De Paor, and from the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, we are joined by Ms Ellen O'Malley-Dunlop and Ms Shirley Scott. I welcome all the witnesses and thank them for attending. I acknowledge also the people in the public Galley who are here to witness proceedings.
On the format of the meeting, I will invite each organisation to make an opening statement of approximately five minutes, which will be followed by a question-and-answer session with members. Members will be coming and going as other business is taking place in the House. I have to leave at some stage because I have tabled a parliamentary question which is due to be answered in the House but I will return. The Vice Chairman will take over when I leave. Apologies in advance for having to do that but it is out of my control.
Before we begin, I draw the attention of witnesses to the situation regarding privilege. They should note that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they 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 witnesses are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded that under the rulings of the Chair, 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 purpose of the meeting is pre-legislative scrutiny of this proposed legislation. We have had quite a number of these meetings in recent years. It has been an extremely useful and important process where individual citizens and members of various interest groups including non-governmental organisations and others like those the witnesses represent can have an input into legislation before it is even published. Our experience has been that this process has a huge impact on legislation in that when it comes out of the process at the other end, it is much better. It is a completely new reform. I hear people talking about parliamentary reform. This is one of the biggest reforms I have seen in my 19 years here, and Parliament appreciates the witnesses' time, expertise and work they put into this process. I invite Ms McDonald to make a five minute presentation. We are restricting the opening statements to five minutes because the question-and-answer session is very interesting.