The items on the agenda for today are the Arts Council financial statements for 2003 and 2004 and the National Theatre Society Limited financial statements 2004. We have some relevant correspondence, dated 15 November 2005, from Mr. Fiach MacConghail, director of the National Theatre Society Limited, re the management structure of the Abbey Theatre and also enclosing a statement from Ms Eithne Healy, chairman of the Abbey board, issued on 20 July 2005, outlining the board's response to an independent internal investigation carried out by KPMG into the financial accounts for 2004.
Witnesses should be aware that they do not enjoy absolute privilege before the committee. The attention of members and witnesses is drawn to the fact that as and from 2 August 1998, section 10 of the Committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Compellability, Privileges and Immunities of Witnesses) Act 1997 grants certain rights to persons identified in the course of the committee's proceedings. These rights include the right to give evidence; the right to produce or send documents to the committee; the right to appear before the committee, either in person or through a representative; the right to make a written or oral submission; the right to request the committee to direct the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents, and the right to cross-examine witnesses. For the most part, these rights may be exercised only with the consent of the committee. Persons being invited before the committee are made aware of these rights and any persons identified in the course of proceedings who are not present may have to be made aware of them and provided with a transcript of the relevant part of the committee's proceedings if the committee considers it appropriate in the interests of justice.
Notwithstanding this provision in the legislation, I remind members 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 by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. They are also reminded of the provisions in Standing Order 156 that the committee shall refrain from inquiring into the merits of a policy or policies of the Government or a Minister of the Government, or the merits of the objectives of such policies.
I invite Ms Mary Cloake, director of the Arts Council, Mr. Fiach MacConghail, director of the Abbey Theatre, and the representative from the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism to introduce their officials.