Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Special Committee on Covid-19 Response

Business of Special Committee

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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The committee is now in public session. There are a number of substitutes today. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor is substituting for Deputy Butler for the third session, while Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett is substituting for Deputy Bríd Smith for the first and second sessions and Deputy Paul Murphy is substituting for her for the third session.

We have a few housekeeping matters which I propose to deal with now, in a very cursory manner if possible. If we cannot agree on them, we will have to go into private session. I am loath to spend much time in private session as the witnesses who have come here to speak to us have a lot on their plates. The first matter is the minutes. Has everyone seen the minutes and are there any issues arising from them that we need to discuss in private session? No. Are the minutes agreed? Agreed.

The correspondence has been circulated. Can I take it that that is noted? Agreed.

I propose to push the election of a Vice Chairman back to this evening when we can meet in private session remotely from our offices using Microsoft Teams. I ask any Members who want to participate in that meeting to make sure they are able to use Microsoft Teams and that they have the technical capability to do so. Oireachtas IT staff are available to help with that.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
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What time is the Chairman proposing to have that meeting?

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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Once the third session is completed.

Duncan Smith (Dublin Fingal, Labour)
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Will we be allowed a few minutes to get back to our offices?

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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Yes; it would not be immediately. We will give a reasonable break if people want to grab a sandwich or something. Rather than taking up time with this matter now, I propose that we discuss it this evening. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I have liaised extensively with members of the committee and groupings regarding speaking slots. It is proposed to give every member of the committee five minutes in which to make a statement, ask a question and receive answers. Members can give their speaking time to someone else, subject to the proviso that people can speak for a maximum of ten minutes at a time. I propose to proceed on that basis for today. We can discuss it again this evening but I do not want to-----

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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Can the Chairman explain that again?

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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Every single member of the committee has five minutes, so everyone is equal-----

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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That is for the first session but there is a second session as well, so we have ten minutes between the two sessions.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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No. The Deputy will have five minutes to speak in this session. If others wish to give him their five minutes or vice versathey can do so, subject to the proviso that nobody speaks for more than ten minutes at a time.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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I do not have an issue with that in theory but as the witnesses will not be present in the way we initially expected, one may want to spend more time with one witness than five minutes will allow. That is the only problem I see.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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I appreciate that but if the first speakers-----

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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I am just making the point.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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-----are taking more than five minutes, those who have a slot later will not be reached and that would be quite unfair. We need to make sure every member of the committee has an equal opportunity.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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The point I am making is that the limitation we have is the two-hour session.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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I understand. The issue is-----

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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I just want to make one point. I appreciate that the Chairman understands all this but I want to articulate it clearly. I will have questions, not necessarily today, which will exceed five minutes because I expected to have ten minutes with the witnesses. That is the point I want to make, but I am not objecting today.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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I appreciate that. If the Deputy would like more than five minutes today, he might speak to his colleagues and somebody might give him an additional five minutes.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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I just want to make the point that, as I understood it, the Chairman's initial proposal was that we would all have ten minutes.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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That was based on having a double session which is not possible now, based on advice.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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The problem is that the same witnesses will not be there.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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That is right.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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I have made the point and we will take it from there.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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I appreciate that the time limits which are required of us are going to make it difficult. We are going to have to be concise, make as few statements as possible and try to elicit information rather than making statements.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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I do not disagree.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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I was a minute late to the meeting. Was the Chairman dealing with the issue of the election of a Vice Chairman in private session?

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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We are still in public session.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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We are in public session.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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Yes.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Did the Chairman mention the postponement of the election of a Vice Chairman until the end of the business of the committee?

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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Yes.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Can I ask, with the indulgence of the Chairman, if that could be postponed until the start of the meeting next week?

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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Does anybody oppose that? No. That is a good idea.

We have the physical capability to take witnesses from committee room 1. Committee members would sit in the Dáil Chamber whereas the witnesses would be in committee room 1. I am aware of the risk that people might have to go into self-isolation. I consulted with as many committee members as I could this morning, although I did not have a mobile number for one or two of them. I am minded to allow the witnesses to sit in committee room 1 and committee members will ask them questions by video link. That would minimise their exposure. We are a relatively small group but there are 19 committee members here, plus staff from the secretariat. That is a relatively large group of people to be consistently in the company of for up to a two-hour period. If committee members agree with that, we will take witnesses by video link from committee room 1. If there are objections, we can go into private session and discuss the matter.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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I think we need to go into private session.

The committee went into private session at 11.08 a.m. and resumed in public session at 11.26 a.m.