THE country's TDs have shared a massive €31.35m in expenses over the past four years, records of their claims reveal. The 166 serving deputies, along with their predecessors from the 29th Dáil, collected €97.56m in pay and expenses between 2005 and 2008.
The TDs are entitled to make claims in almost a dozen categories and also benefit from an array of other allowances.
Each of the country's deputies has taken home a total income of €587,710 and an average of €188,891 each in expenses in the past four years.
Some well-known TDs have claimed close to €300,000 in expenses, a compilation of figures for the last four years shows, with at least two deputies claiming more than that.
Former Fine Gael minister Michael Lowry has claimed €299,478.55 in expenses since 2005, along with his annual salary of €104,426.
Lowry, who was forced to resign from cabinet in 1996 over revelations at the McCracken tribunal, claimed €94,684 in a single year in 2007.
Beverley Cooper-Flynn, who attempted to start a standing ovation after Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue's resignation speech, has also done well from the Kildare Street expenses regime.
According to the figures, she has claimed €275,486.74 in expenses over the past four years, which topped up her annual salary of €105,329.
Galway TD Frank Fahey, who has extensive property interests, also made a substantial claim last year, according to the records; he took home €77,349 in 2008.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, who faced criticism over his reluctance to comment on recent expenses controversies, made considerable claims, according to the figures.
Since 2005, he has claimed expenses totalling €285,277, claiming more than €70,000 annually for the past three years.
Another TD who was consistent in his defence of John O'Donoghue, former minister Jim McDaid, also fared well in the expenses bonanza.
His claims over the four years came to €255,392 on top of his annual salary of €104,426 and his ministerial pension.
TDs are entitled firstly to claim a constituency travel allowance, which in 2008 was capped at €8,782.68. This provides for driving around their home county to offer assistance to their voters.
They are then entitled to a miscellaneous expense allowance. This is capped at €5,482.80 and was claimed by around three-quarters of TDs last year.
All of the deputies are further entitled to a constituency telephone allowance, a constituency office grant, a constituency office maintenance allowance and a special secretarial allowance.
On top of that, TDs are then entitled to claim for travel and subsistence, which includes "overnighters" at the Dáil, of more than €130 a night and generous mileage allowances.
It is in this category that the highest bills were run up. Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris was the largest claimant last year, taking in €50,664.81 for 2008.
The country's 166 TDs are also entitled to claim for committee travel expenses, both home and abroad, ISDN line rental refund, travel expenses for training and a committee entertainment allowance.
Furthermore, the country's politicians can claim for inter-parliamentary travel in Ireland and overseas, and also British-Irish inter-parliamentary travel.
The total amount in expenses being claimed has shown a steady rise since 2005, according to the figures, which were released to www.thestory.ie, a website campaigning for transparency in politics.
In 2005, the amount claimed by politicians for their travel, subsistence and phone stood at €7.73m. The following year, the figure remained largely unchanged. By 2007, when the general election took place, the cost of expenses for TDs stood at €7.86m, before rising to €8.03m last year.
The figures cover only the cost of expenses for TDs; they do not include the enormous extra bills for ministerial travel, which have begun to come to light in recent months.
Serving ministers tend to have low expense claims, with some, such as environment minister John Gormley, claiming just €2,276 last year.
Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern used to claim an average of around €5,000 a year but since he stepped down, his expense claims have sky-rocketed.
In 2008, the last year for which a full record is available, Ahern claimed €56,979 in expenses, more than €43,000 of which related to maintenance of a constituency office.
The amount of money involved also dramatically increases in proportion to how far away from Dublin a TD lives. Many of the highest claiming deputies live in rural constituencies in Munster, Connacht and Ulster.
Cork Fine Gael TD Bernard Allen, for instance, has claimed more than €298,000 over the past four years, with a total of €79,461 received in 2007.
Fianna Fáil TD Niall Blaney from Co Donegal has also had consistently large claims: since 2005 took in more than €279,000 in expenses.
Another consistently big claimer is Fine Gael's Pat Breen, who has raked in more than €300,000 in four years, including a claim of €87,283 in 2008.
Fianna Fáil's John Cregan is another whose annual expenses regularly top €70,000; he has claimed over €288,000 since 2005.
Sinn Féin's Martin Ferris had a high overall bill with over €277,000 claimed in the past four years and €78,555 last year.
His fellow Kerry TD Jackie Healy-Rae had a total claim of €290,662 since 2005.
Other politicians whose claims have comfortably passed €250,000 in the past four years are Fine Gael's Phil Hogan (€280,794), Pádraic McCormack (€282,726), Dinny McGinley (€289,616), Dan Neville (€272,702) and Michael Ring (€274,331); and Fianna Fail's Peter Kelly (€291,464), MJ Nolan (€279,464) and Ned O'Keeffe (€304,137).
Ned O'Keeffe (FF) €304,137.80
Pat Breen (FG) €301,206.72
Michael Lowry (Ind) €299,478.55
Bernard Allen (FG) €298,412.66
Peter Kelly (FF) €291,464.60
Jackie Healy-rae (Ind) €290,662.99
Dinny McGinley (FG) €289,616.80
John Cregan (FF) €288,002.33
Enda Kenny (FG) €285,277.30
Phil Hogan (FG) €280,794.83