THE government has paid a staggering €166m for public relations, advertising, consultancy and so-called expert reports.

The money was spent in the past four years by 15 government departments and some of the most high-profile state agencies.

External PR advice – separate to advice from highly paid press and media consultants hired by each of the departments and quangos – came to €4.1m.

Outside reports were commissioned by the bucket-load, with departments and state bodies spending €19m on reviews and studies, many of which were not acted upon or became redundant after the economic crash.

Consultancy costs, including millions of euro paid to four firms for banking advice, ended up costing the taxpayer €88.5m, the Sunday Tribune has learned.

Advertising costs on public information campaigns, recruitment and other marketing came to a final cost of €55m.

Almost half of the public relations spend – more than €2.1m – went to Murray Consultants for its work on an "emergency planning campaign" for the Department of Defence two years ago.

The Department of Finance's share of the bill rose to more than 15%, as it was swamped with advice from consultants on the ill-fated banking guarantee. In total, it has spent more than €25m since 2007 on advertising, consultancy and expert reports.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has paid more than €10m to consultants, advertising agencies, and other organisations. Last year, it spent €560,407 on a campaign to promote awareness of the European Union.

The most expensive project at the Department of Education was a report on integrating new students in schools: it cost more than €250,000.

The Department of Social Protection had habitually spent significant sums every year advertising people's entitlements, including a €600,000 spend on back-to-school and free-travel all­owances in 2007.

This year, it spent just €10,000 on a similar campaign.

At the Department of De­fence, €440,000 was spent on reports, including €30,000 on bracken growth in the Glen of Imaal and €47,746 to ask women what they thought about a career in the Defence Forces.

The figures were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) and through a survey of the 15 government departments and the most high-profile state bodies.

One organisation, An Bord Bia, sought fees of more than €20,000 under the FOI Act for the details while the Dublin Docklands Development Auth­ority declined to release any information, saying it would cause "interference with or disruption of work".