Politicians with no mandate get €5m since 2011
UNELECTED local councillors have been paid over €5.2m in salaries and other payments since the last general election.
Over 90 politicians have been appointed to local authorities in the past three years without actually being elected.
This means one in every 10 city and county council seat filled in the last local elections five years ago is now occupied by a councillor who was not selected by the electorate.
Unlike Dail seats, where a by-election must be called if a TD resigns or dies, parties are allowed to pick replacements if council vacancies arise.
Although there is often an internal party vote, the public does not get to decide which candidate is co-opted onto their local council. Independent councillors who leave their posts can also nominate their replacements.
Nevertheless, co-opted councillors enjoy the same rights and privileges as their elected counterparts, including a €16,565 salary and additional expenses.
The large number of co-options in recent years comes as a knock-on effect of 44 TDs losing their seats in the 2011 General Election, with replacements mainly coming from the ranks of the city and county councils.
West Cork Fine Gael councillor Jerry Sullivan was one of those who benefited, taking over the council seat vacated when Noel Harrington was elected to the Dail. He has emerged as the best-paid co-opted councillor in the country, earning €114,882 in pay, allowances and expenses between 2011 and the end of 2013.
As someone who had been involved with his local Fine Gael organisation for 40 years, he fits the typical description of a co-opted councillor, who have in the main tended to be party activists, family members or associates of TDs.
Mr Sullivan said there was no distinction between him and directly elected councillors.
"I have worked away the same as any councillor," he said.
He explained the large amount claimed by him since becoming a councillor was down to the long distances he has to travel to meetings from his base in Beara.
"I think I have the farthest distance of travel of any county councillor in the country. I have a round trip of 180 miles to get to County Hall (in Cork city)," he said.
"There was a bit there for far too long when everybody was on the gravy train in this business. But I have no problem disclosing my expenses.
"It is public money. People are entitled to know where their money is going. I have no problem whatsoever in standing over any expense I incurred.
"I would be of the opinion that the council is probably costing me money in the long run. The distance I travel, the wear and tear in the context of the roads, and meeting constituents all week long, it is an expensive business.
"I finish up with a wage a week of about €260."
Dublin City Council has seen the most co-options of any local authority in the past three years.
The best paid co-opted councillor in Dublin was Anthony Connaghan of Sinn Fein, who replaced TD Dessie Ellis on the council and has received €84,630 in pay, allowances and expenses between 2011 and the end of last year.
The highest-earning co-opted councillor in Ulster in the same period was John Campbell (€86,506), an independent who was selected to replace TD Thomas Pringle on Donegal County Council.
Fine Gael's Kevin Ryan (€81,709), who replaced TD Paul Connaughton on Galway County Council, was the highest earning co-opted councillor in Connacht in the same period.