Apologies have been received from Senators Jerry Buttimer and Colette Kelleher.
I am very pleased to open the public hearings of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee on the status, treatment and use of the national anthem. These meetings are the second part of a process which began in October with a public invitation to make written submissions to the committee. On behalf of the committee, I wish to sincerely thank all those who sent in submissions on this topic.
The committee hopes that, through this public consultation initiative, we can consider and discuss the following issues in respect of the national anthem: should there be any change to the current status of the national anthem, whereby it is in the public domain and free to use by all? Should the Government issue guidelines on the use of the national anthem? If so, what matters should be covered or not covered? Should this include reference to when it is appropriate to play the national anthem, or restrictions around this? Should there be legislation introduced in respect of the national anthem? If so, what should this provide for? Should the national anthem be officially enshrined in legislation? If so, what versions of the music and words should be used and in what languages? Should the use of the national anthem be legally restricted through the process of copyright or otherwise? What should be classed as misuse of the national anthem? How should this be decided and who should enforce it? Should the use of the national anthem for commercial purposes, such as for advertising, be restricted? Would charging money for a recording of the national anthem by an artist be classed as using it for commercial purposes? What penalties should be put in place if any proposed restrictions are breached and what form should these take? These are some of the issues the committee hopes to tease out through this public consultation exercise.
Following on from these hearings, a draft report will be prepared for the committee in conjunction with the secretariat by our rapporteur, Senator Mark Daly. The committee will review the draft report and publish its final report as soon as possible thereafter.
Today's public meeting will consist of two sessions. Session A will run from now until 11.30 a.m., and session B from 11.45 a.m. up to 1.30 p.m. On behalf of the committee, I welcome the following witnesses to the first session: Mr. Tony Fitzgerald, Lord Mayor of Cork; Lieutenant Colonel Mark Armstrong, director of the Defence Forces School of Music; Mr. Joseph Nugent, chief administrative officer at Garda headquarters; Mr. Conal Kearney, grandson of Peadar Kearney, the author of the national anthem; Councillor Nial Ring, grand-nephew of Liam Ring who translated Peadar Kearney's "The Soldier's Song" in the Irish version, "Amhrán Na bhFiann"; and Mr. Raymond Daly, author of a historical songbook. The witnesses are most welcome and I thank them for engaging with the committee in its consideration of this important topic.
I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that 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 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.
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 House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I also wish to advise witnesses that any opening statements made to the committee will be published on the committee website after this meeting.
To commence proceedings, I invite Senator Mark Daly to make a few introductory remarks. I will then invite each witness to make a short presentation to the committee. They may share their time with a colleague if they so wish and I ask witnesses to please indicate this to me when invited to speak. As there is a large number of witnesses in this session, I ask that presenters keep their opening statements as brief as possible. When the presentations have finished, there will be time for questions and comments from the Senators and responses from the witnesses.