I take great pleasure in welcoming the witnesses to our first session today. I welcome Councillor P.J. O'Hanlon, cathaoirleach of Monaghan County Council; Councillor Mary Garrity, chair of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council; Mr. Seamus Neely, chief executive of Donegal County Council; Mr. John Kelpie, chief executive of Derry City and Strabane District Council; Mr. Eamonn O'Sullivan, chief executive of Monaghan County Council, and Mr. Brendan Hegarty, chief executive of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council.
I invite the witnesses to give their opening statements. There will then be an opportunity for a question and answer session. There are a number of housekeeping rules. I will reiterate a notice that is given here regularly about turning off mobile phones. I remind members, guests and those in the Visitors Gallery to please ensure that their mobile phones, iPhones, BlackBerrys, etc., are switched off completely - let me stress the word completely - for the duration of the meeting as they cause interference, even when in silent mode, with the recording equipment in the committee rooms.
I ask everyone to refrain from switching phones on or off, as that can also interfere with the sound equipment for several minutes at a time.
I am also obliged to read a notice regarding privilege. 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 or body outside the House, or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. 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 joint committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a 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 they 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.
On behalf of the committee, I am pleased to welcome our witnesses. I understand that Mr. Neely and Mr. Kelpie will give the opening statements, and that our other witnesses will come in later. I now invite Mr. Neely to make his opening remarks.