I propose to take Questions Nos. 69 and 91 together.
Members of the Defence Forces are prohibited from belonging to trade unions and, as a consequence, their representative associations are not affiliated to the ICTU. This means that the associations do not participate directly in the negotiations between the social partners which have led to national agreements.
In the course of discussions on the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, agreement was reached with the Defence Forces representative associations on a framework which would facilitate them engaging with the official side in talks parallel to those taking place between the social partners at national level. Under the terms of this agreement, representatives of the Departments of the Taoiseach, Finance, Defence and the military authorities met collectively and separately with representatives of PDFORRA and RACO. These meetings were supplemented by a number of bilateral meetings involving the various parties. This process ensured that the associations were fully aware of developments at the central discussions while at the same time having a forum to raise matters of particular concern to them.
Based on the established model, parallel discussions with the Defence Forces representative associations on how the Public Service Benchmarking Body's recommendations on achieving modernisation, flexibility and change can be implemented in the Defence Forces commenced on 22 October 2002, and are continuing. I am satisfied that these arrangements have in the past, and will in the future, provide an opportunity for the Defence Forces representative associations to engage in a meaningful way with the social partnership discussions.
In expectation of a successful conclusion to these discussions and anticipating that the Defence Forces representative associations will accept the Sustaining Progress agreement, an allocation of €14 million has been made in the Revised 2003 Estimate for my Department. This allocation provides for payment of the benchmarking awards, including the arrears due from 1 December 2001.