JUST three families in the State have voluntarily given up their child benefit payments.
Some 600,000 other families are still getting child benefit for more than 1.1 million children at a cost of nearly €2bn – one of the highest in Europe.
The Department of Social Protection said the figure for the number of children whose parents might have entitlements to benefit but who have never claimed it is not available.
However, only three families who had availed of it had decided they would no longer claim it and had notified the State.
Two of the families who gave back the allowance have one child, while the third has two.
Last week, multi-millionaire Michael O'Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, railed against the child benefit payment in an interview with a Dutch publication and called for its reform.
Ireland has some eight billionaires and more than 20,000 millionaires.
"I'm a multi-millionaire, but my wife gets four cheques each month (€530) to support our four children. This is insane," Mr O'Leary said.
He has been a consistent critic of the payment, previously saying it was "subsidising people to have sex" and should be scrapped.
"You need to channel children's allowance to people on lower incomes through income support schemes and single parent allowances," he said in an interview in 2009 during a visit to Shannon Airport.
Borrowing money from Europeans to give to rich people in Ireland – or even people on average incomes – in children's allowance was "an absurdity", he said then.
The department said the facility to voluntarily surrender child benefit has always existed.
"If a parent does not wish to claim their child benefit payment, they can notify the Department of Social Protection in writing to that effect and their claim will be stopped in accordance with their wishes," a spokeswoman said.