THE country's part-time politicians were paid an average of almost €30,000 each last year with 11 of them paid more than €100k each.
County and city councillors have received more than €52m in payments between them over the past two years, an extensive investigation by the Irish Independent reveals.
While the majority of these councillors earned the money on top of their day jobs, some have made a full-time living out of what is supposed to be a part-time role.
The money comes to them in salary, allowances, fees and expenses.
The revelations come as thousands of candidates hit the campaign trail in a bid to win a seat in the local elections on May 23.
Our investigation found that of the €52.2m spend, some €29.3m was on taxable salaries to 883 councillors.
The remaining €22.9m was made up of expenses, fees and allowances for attending conferences and sitting on a range of public bodies to which they have been nominated by virtue of being a councillor.
Some of these payments are taxable, while others are not.
One prominent local politician, former Dublin Lord Mayor Dermot Lacey, said it was clear some councillors "try to get on a number of bodies in order to supplement their income".
Details of the majority of this spending is not routinely published and had to be obtained, in most cases, under the Freedom of Information Act.
The expenditure, amounting to an average of €29,469 per councillor, comes despite councils warning they may be forced to cut services due to deteriorating finances.
In addition, 20 of the country's 34 local authorities are technically insolvent, relying on bank borrowings and overdrafts to meet day-to-day expenses and maintain services.
The investigation reveals:
* More than €200,000 was spent sending councillors on fact-finding trips to far-flung locations, including China, Japan, Abu Dhabi, Florida and California.
* The cost to the taxpayer for councillors attending conferences throughout Ireland came to more than €3m.
* One council paid university fees for two of its councillors, while another covered the cost of laptops and IT equipment for its members.
* Fine Gael councillors were the top claimers when it came to pay and expenses, averaging €30,731 each in 2013.
* Labour local representatives received an average of €29,254 last year, followed by Fianna Fail (€27,303) and Sinn Fein (€24,396).
* Several councillors claim expenses from third-level institutions, with one, Kilkenny councillor Mary Hilda Kavanagh (FG), getting €27,361 over the past two years, mainly for sitting on interview boards at Waterford Institute of Technology.
The Irish Independent investigation involved a trawl of records held by almost 100 different public bodies.
These included city and county councils, regional authorities, regional assemblies, HSE forums, third-level institutions, education and training boards and bodies dealing with fisheries, the Irish language and cross-Border issues.
However, a number of education and training boards, which are not yet subject to freedom of information legislation, refused to co-operate – despite paying expenses of up to €5,000 a year to some councillors sitting on their boards.
The figures obtained show the average sum paid to councillors has dropped by €1,000 since 2011.
The highest earning councillor in Leinster, Kildare's Michael 'Spike' Nolan Jnr (FG), who is a full-time public representative, defended the €135,000 he received in the past two years, when he was mayor of the county.
The sum included an annual mayoral allowance of €50,000, which was subject to tax.
Mr Nolan said he and colleagues were unhappy with how the media portrayed council expenses.
He said he had worked "between 60 and 80 hours a week practically for two years" and had paid his taxes, PRSI, universal social charge and pension levies.
"It is not a case of getting this money, sticking it in your a**e pocket and two fingers to everyone else.
"It is not like that at all," he said.
Labour's Dermot Lacey, who received €85,755 for sitting on four public bodies in 2012 and 2013, also defended the payments made to councillors.
However, he admitted there was an issue over sums claimed for attending conferences.
"One of the problems is that some, effectively full-time, councillors have over the years used conferences in order to supplement their income and we need to get a way around that particular problem," he said.
Independent Kildare councillor Padraig McEvoy said there were question marks over the value of certain "spurious" conferences.
"I would like to see more rigorous reporting and evidence that the events gone to are worthy of the investment of public funds," he said.
CITY and county councillors are entitled to claim a number of legitimate payments from local authorities – including expenses to cover the cost of attending council meetings, payments to attend conferences and training courses at home and abroad, and a mobile phone allowance.