Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 22 September 2021
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation
EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement: Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment
I thank members and witnesses for participating in today's meeting in line with the exceptional circumstances we have to deal with under Covid-19. Members and all in attendance are required to exercise personal responsibility in protecting themselves and others from the risk of contracting Covid-19. Today is the first meeting in a long time where people can physically come into room as well as ourselves. Members are required to practice good hand hygiene and leave at least one vacant seat between themselves and other attendees. They should also always maintain an appropriate level of social distancing during and after the meeting. Masks should be worn at all times during the meeting, except when speaking. I ask for full co-operation in this matter.
Any member participating in the meeting remotely is required to participate from within the Leinster House complex only.
Today the committee will give consideration to the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA. To assist us in considering these matters I am pleased to welcome the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Varadkar, who is participating in the meeting online. Members will recall that the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs gave comprehensive consideration to this trade agreement earlier this year and engaged with a wide range of witnesses, including the Minister. The committee published its report on the matter last week and laid it before the Houses of the Oireachtas. However, given that this committee's remit specifically relates to the affairs of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, we decided it would be appropriate for us to engage directly with the Minister on this matter.
I wish to explain some limitations to parliamentary privilege and the practice of the Houses in respect of reference witnesses may make to other persons in their evidence. The evidence of witnesses physically present or who give evidence from within the parliamentary precincts is protected, pursuant to both the Constitution and statute, by absolute privilege. This means that witnesses have an absolute defence against any defamation action for anything they say at the meeting. However, they are expected not to abuse this privilege and it is my duty as Chair to ensure that this privilege is not abused. Therefore, if statements of witnesses are potentially defamatory in respect of an identifiable person or entity, I will direct them to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that they comply with any such direction.
Unfortunately, the Minister's opening statement has not been received by the committee, and on behalf of the committee, I express our disappointment that we have not received it. We have raised that with departmental officials and Ministers of State in the past when we have not received opening statements. It is important that members get the opening statement before the meeting starts so that they can address it and contribute as best they can. I call the Minister to make his opening contribution.