Challenges for the European Union: Presentations

This is a special meeting of the five joint committees. Before we start, I remind members and witnesses to ensure that their mobile phones are switched off. This is important as they cause serious problems for the broadcasting, editorial and sound staff.

I am delighted that today we have engagement on Europe Day. We have a presentation by the students on the challenges facing the European Union and we are all very much looking forward to that.

I welcome all the witnesses to this special meeting of the joint committees on Europe Day.

On this day in 1950 Robert Schuman outlined his vision for Europe of peace and co-operation between nations. That was nearly 70 years ago, but it laid the foundations for the European Union we know today. It is a strong partnership of nations that are working together to achieve the common goals of peace and prosperity. Ireland joined the European Economic Community, EEC, now the European Union, in 1973 and has been a proud participant in European institutions for more than 45 years. Citizens of Ireland tend to be very positive about our EU membership. The results of a recent poll carried out by Red C Research and Marketing for the European Movement of Ireland showed that 93% of Irish people supported remaining in the European Union. This shows the success of the European project and the benefits the European Union has brought to the country.

For Ireland, membership of international rules-based organisations is the best way to build relationships and alliances and for countries to support each other. Europe Day is a great opportunity for us all to reflect on where we are and what we have achieved. Importantly, it is also an opportunity to discuss the challenges ahead for all of us and how we can work together to find solutions to them. In the context of Brexit and all of the implications that stem from it, it is more important than ever before for politicians, of all political allegiances and none, to work together and show a united front when it comes to doing our job and ensuring a good team effort across the political divide. I sincerely believe it is terribly important for us to do so.

Elections to the European Parliament will be held across the European Union in a few weeks' time. The results of the same poll to which I referred showed that younger cohorts who were the most positive towards the European Union and many of its policies and who certainly had views on the issues at stake were also the least likely group to vote on 24 May. It is important that we find ways to engage with each other and hear from experts emerging in their fields. It is especially important that we hear the views of young people on the issues that will affect the future of the European Union. I am passionate about this issue. When I look at young people, I see them as the future. In the years to come they will be the politicians and employers. Every one of us is on a wheel and our time in our different roles comes and then finishes. It will then be the turn of the young people who are before me. When I go into schools, national and secondary, all I think of is that they are the future. They are the ones who will be running the country, the Europe Union and the world in the years ahead. I am very conscious of this, as we all should be.

I do not think we have ever held a meeting of five joint committees before. Today's event shows a new approach and how important it is that we take a cross-sectoral approach to such broad issues. I welcome our guests, the students and young people from Queens University Belfast, QUB; Ulster University, UU; Teagasc; University College Dublin, UCD; Dublin City University, DCU; National University of Ireland, Galway, NUIG; National University of Ireland, Maynooth, NUIM; and our neighbours in University College Cork, UCC.

The meeting will be divided into four sessions and the Chairman or Vice Chairman of the relevant committee will chair its session. 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 persons outside the Houses or an official, by name or in such a way as to make him or her 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 committee. If they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, 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.

I ask the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Deering, to lead us in the discussion on the reform of the Common Agriculture Policy.