Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 9 March 2023
Public Accounts Committee
2021 Financial Statements of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland: Discussion
Brian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome everyone to this morning's meeting. No apologies have been received. Those attending in the committee room are asked to exercise personal responsibility to protect themselves and others from the risk of contracting Covid-19. Members of the committee attending remotely must do so from within the precincts of Leinster House. This is due to the constitutional requirement that in order to participate in public meetings, members must be physically present within the confines of the place where the Parliament has chosen to sit.
The Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. Seamus McCarthy, is a permanent witness to the committee. He is accompanied this morning by Ms Mary Henry deputy director of Audit at the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. This morning we will engage with officials from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI. We are joined by the following officials from SEAI: Mr. William Walsh, chief executive officer; Ms Marion O'Brien, director of corporate services; Dr. Ciaran Byrne, director of national retrofit; Mr. Declan Meally, director of business, public sector and transport; and Ms Margie McCarthy, director of research, policy and insights. We are joined remotely by the following officials from SEAI: Ms Olivia O'Connor, head of finance and ICT; and Mr. Tom Halpin, head of marketing and communications. We are also joined by the following representatives from the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications: Mr. Barry Quinlan, assistant secretary; and Ms Linda O'Rourke, assistant principal. We are also joined from the Department of Transport by Dr. Aoife O'Grady, principal officer. All are very welcome.
I remind all those in attendance to ensure their mobile phones are switched off or are on silent mode. I will explain some limitations to parliamentary privilege and the practice of the Houses as regards references witnesses may make to other persons in their evidence. The evidence of witnesses who are physically present or who give evidence within parliamentary precincts is protected pursuant to both the Constitution and statute. Those in the precincts of Leinster House are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the presentations they make to the committee. This means they 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 Cathaoirleach to ensure it is not abused. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that they comply with such directions. Two of today's witnesses are giving their evidence remotely from a place outside the parliamentary precincts and as such may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal prosecutions as a witness physically present does. Such witnesses have already been advised that they may think it appropriate to take legal advice on this matter.
Members are reminded of the provision of Standing Order 218 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. Members are also reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not comment on, criticise, or make charges against a person outside the Houses, or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I call the Comptroller and Auditor General to make his opening statement.