Apologies have been received from Deputy Burke and Senators Hopkins and Grace O'Sullivan. I congratulate Senator Grace O'Sullivan on her election to the European Parliament. I understand she will cease to be a Member of the Seanad and a member of the joint committee when she takes her seat at the first sitting of the European Parliament which is likely to be on 2 July. I wish her the very best in her endeavours.
I remind members, staff, delegates and those in the Visitors Gallery to turn off their mobile phones as they interfere with the sound and broadcasting systems.
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 the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and 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 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, where possible, 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.
On behalf of the committee, I welcome Dr Anthony Soares, acting director, Centre for Cross Border Studies; Ms Tara Farrell, deputy CEO, Longford Women’s Link; and Mr. Aidan Campbell, policy and public affairs officer, Rural Community Network. It is proposed that any opening statement, submission or other document supplied by delegates or other bodies to the committee on the topic of this meeting be published on its website. Is that agreed? Agreed.
In a referendum held on Thursday 23 June 2016 the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. While the withdrawal agreement and political declaration on future relations were agreed to between the United Kingdom and the European Union, the House of Commons seems to be unable to approve the agreement or any other way forward. The United Kingdom's departure date of 29 March 2019 was extended to 12 April and then 31 October. As a result of Theresa May's resignation as leader of the Conservative Party on 7 June, there will probably be a new UK Prime Minister towards the end of July. We are also facing the prospect of a hard Brexit, that is, a Brexit without a withdrawal agreement. Numerous experts agree on the impact of a hard Brexit on the Border region, the North and North-South trade, but politics is the art of the possible. The committee is preparing a report on Brexit and the Border and the impact on rural communities. We have heard from many people on both sides of the Border. We are delighted to hear from the delegates who are outlining a way forward. I welcome them and call Dr. Soares to make his presentation.