TOP civil servants earning up to €146,000 a year told Finance Minister Brian Lenihan that their work was so important they deserved a pay rise.
Mr Lenihan subsequently decided to give these 150 key personnel -- along with 450 other senior state employees -- an exemption from the full brunt of the public-service pay cuts.
As part of its campaign against the cuts, the Association of Assistant Secretaries and Higher Grades (AASHG) told Mr Lenihan that their pay of up to €146,000 was "way behind" what was on offer in the private sector.
"Indeed, in other more favourable circumstances, this data would overwhelmingly support the case for an increase," it said in a series of letters to Mr Lenihan and the Department of Finance.
The revelation of the claims made by the senior civil servants is likely to spark further fury among teachers, gardai, nurses and low-paid public service workers, who are now being asked to vote to accept a deal cementing their full pay cuts.
While cleaners in government departments have taken a 5pc pay cut, the 150 assistant secretaries at the top of the civil service had their basic salaries reduced by just 3pc (from a maximum of €150,000 to €146,000).
The leading civil servants also accused Mr Lenihan of interfering with the work of the special body on higher-level pay by saying that the pay of senior public servants was "too high" and there needed to be a "downward revision".
According to the letters -- copies of which were obtained by the Irish Independent in a Freedom of Information request -- the AASHG wrote to Mr Lenihan's department last May, shortly after he had announced the setting up of a group to review the pay of senior public servants.
It said it had "considerable concerns" about the exercise and warned him that it represented an "important cohort of senior management within the civil service".
"We are also keen to emphasise that we are more than willing to make our contribution to restoring the health of the public finances subject only to the provision that this is done in a fair, equitable and transparent manner," its chairman Bryan Andrews wrote in a letter marked "seen by minister".
"The future well-being of the public service is critically dependent on our ability to attract our fair share of the necessary capability both at graduate level and to the senior level positions," he wrote.
The AASHG wrote directly to Mr Lenihan last October as it became alarmed about the work of the review body, whose report had not yet been published. It said it wanted a meeting with him as a "matter of urgency" to put forward its "deep concerns" about pay cuts.
The review body recommended an 8pc cut to the salaries of assistant secretaries and other senior public officials -- even after it took account of the scrapped bonus scheme they once enjoyed, which delivered annual payments of around €15,000 each.
Fine Gael finance spokesman Richard Bruton said Mr Lenihan should never have conceded to the demands of the senior civil servants to exempt them from the full public-sector pay cuts.
"I think the general run-of-the-mill person felt that those who have privileged access were getting a better deal, whereas those who were remote from the centre of power were getting it in the neck," he said.
A spokesman for Mr Lenihan denied that he had been influenced in his decision by the powerful positions of the senior civil servants -- and their role in implementing his plan to tackle the crisis in the public finances. He said Mr Lenihan had consistently said he had taken account of their bonus scheme, which amounted to around 10pc of their salary.