Business of Select Committee

Apologies have been received. For the information of members, Deputy Niamh Smyth is joining the committee. She is swapping with Deputy O'Connor, who is on two committees at the same time. She will be here in due course. Do we have any other apologies?

Deputy Creed sends his apologies. Deputy McHugh is available should we need him.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against persons outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. Parliamentary privilege is considered to apply to the utterances of members participating online in a committee meeting when their participation is from within the parliamentary precincts. For this purpose, the parliamentary precincts are considered to be the accommodation assigned to Members in Leinster House, any other location in Leinster House or Leinster House 2000 or the Convention Centre Dublin on days on which the relevant House sits there. I ask members to note that they may participate remotely in proceedings held in public only from the locations listed above, as privilege for their utterances only applies when participating from these locations.

It is also important to note that in order to participate in a division, the committee member must be physically present in the room. Voting cannot be done from a remote location. In view of the remote participation of members and in order to ensure that their contributions are accurately recorded, it is essential for people to wait until I call them by name before commencing any contribution. Members joining remotely can use the "raise hand" facility on the screen, or if they are physically present they can put their hand up in the committee room.

Members are reminded that, due to Covid restrictions, each session must conclude within two hours and that no extension of time is possible. We are conscious of that in terms of the scheduling for today’s business and I will speak more about that in due course. I advise the committee that we have a new member. As I mentioned at the outset, Deputy Niamh Smyth is joining the committee. We will welcome her when she joins us.

Today's business is the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill. The meeting is for the purpose of discussing Committee Stage of the Bill. We are limited to two hours so, in effect, we will conclude after 85 minutes because of the Covid restrictions. We have reserved this Thursday at 4.30 p.m. as a back-up session if we need it. We will see how we get on, but members should note there is a fall-back position if we do not get through the business today.

There is a bit of history to this Bill. It began life as a Law Reform Commission, LRC, report in 2015. I contributed to that consultation at the time, but more pertinently for the purpose of today's hearing, it was a Private Members' Bill sponsored by Deputy Howlin. He has put in the hard yards on this for more than three years to get it to this Stage. It has moved through First and Second Stages to get to where it is now. I compliment Deputy Howlin on doing that. It is the first Private Members' Bill we will take through this committee. I look forward to its passage over the next couple of weeks or months, or however long it takes and, certainly, the next two hours.

I wish to also mention Ms Jackie Fox, who myself and Deputy Howlin met outside the Oireachtas at the start of the summer and whose daughter, Nicole, tragically fell victim to cyberbullying. I know she has a great interest in this Bill. I welcome her support and interest in it. We can all do justice to that by working together to make sure this passes as efficiently and smoothly as possible.

As I mentioned, due to the limited seating, a number of members are participating remotely. They may join in at different stages to move their amendments. I welcome the Minister and her officials, and all members. Deputy Bríd Smith is online, I believe, and will join in at the relevant time. She is welcome as well.