Brian Cowen

Sixty-six public servants are now paid more than Taoiseach Brian Cowen, a Sunday Tribune investigation has found. The numbers include seven Supreme Court judges and 37 justices of the High Court. The highest paid are the head of Nama and the head of the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA), who receive more than €500,000 a year but who refuse to disclose the exact figure.

The survey was conducted in the wake of the release in Britain of the names of 172 senior public servants who are paid more than prime minister David Cameron, who receives stg£142,500, approximately €169,500 a year.

By contrast, Cowen is paid more than €228,000 a year.

John Corrigan, the new head of the Ntma, and Nama boss Bernard McDonagh have hinted they may be prepared to release details of their salaries. But when asked in the Dáil last week, finance minister Brian Lenihan said he was unable to release salary levels for the Ntma and Nama as they were "confidential".

It wasn't always the case that the Taoiseach was down the public sector salary pecking order. Prior to the onset of the boom, it was an accepted principle that no public servant, bar the President, should be paid more than the Taoiseach.

In successive reports by the Review Body on Higher Remuneration, which sets the pay levels for the country's top public servants, the pay of the Taoiseach and the Chief Justice were always pegged at the same rate and nobody was paid more. But this principle was blown away during the boom.

In 1998, a Review Body report by the then head of the AIB bank, Michael Buckley, recommended that the ceiling on the pay of chief executives of commercial semi-states should be lifted altogether and their pay salaries should be based on high-flyers in private sector companies.

Despite strenuous objections from some cabinet ministers that this move would fuel a pay explosion in the public sector, the pay shackles on the commercial semi-states were lifted. And as predicted, over the next 10 years of the boom, pay levels went through the roof.

At the time, the then newly appointed chief executive of the ESB, Ken O'Hara had his salary set at £115,330 (€146,500) inclusive of a 30% bonus. The salary of the incoming Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, was set at £103,500 (€131,500).

By comparison, in 2008 before he agreed to take a voluntary pay cut and waive bonuses, the pay package for the ESB's Padraig McManus including bonus, fees, pension contributions etc, was €654,321 – a 350% increase in 10 years over Ken O'Hara's salary in 1998.

But in the same period and also prior to the current round of cuts, the Taoiseach's salary had risen to €285,583 – a far more modest 117% increase.

Last year, finance minister Brian Lenihan promised a review of the pay rates of chief executives of commercial semi-states.

But so far there has been no sign of this report and it is understood that it will be well towards the end of the year before anything emerges.

The sixty-six public servants paid more than Brian Cowen

John Corrigan, Head of NTMA, €500,000 + (Estimated as NTMA refuses to release salary details)

Brendan McDonagh, Head of NAMA, €500,000 + (Estimated as NAMA refuses to release salary details)

Mike Aynsley, CEO, Anglo Irish Bank, €500,000

Declan Collier, CEO, Dublin Airport Authority, €478,100

Padraig McManus, CEO, ESB, €458,309

Dermot Byrne, CEO, Eirgrid, €439,000

Donal Connell, CEO, An Post, €423,000

Gabriel D'Arcy, CEO, Bord na Mona, €357,000

John Mullins, CEO, Bord Gais, €344,000

David Gunning, CEO, Coillte, €343,000

Cathal Magee, CEO designate, HSE, €322,000

John Murray, Chief Justice,

Nicholas Kearns, President, High Court, €275,000

Eamonn Brennan, CEO, Irish Aviation Authority, €274,000

Cathal Goan, DG, RTE, €273,000

Enda Connellan, CEO, Dublin Port, €264,000 (2008)

Frank Gannon, DG, Science Foundation, €259,697

Brendan Keating, CEO, Cork Port, €259,372 (2008 salary includes deferred bonus for '06 and '07)

Adrian Hardiman (+ six others), Supreme Court judge, €258,000

Matthew Deery, President Circuit Court, €249,000

Paul Carney (+ 35 others), High Court judge, €243,000

Academic Medical Consultant, Public Teaching Hospitals, €241,359

John Lynch, Executive Chairman, CIE, €239,602

Seán McGrath, HR Director, HSE, €230,000

Dr Michael Murphy, President, UCC, €230,000

Kevin Cardiff, Secretary General / Dept of Finance, €228,466

Dermot McCarthy, Secretary General / Dept of Taoiseach, €228,466

Brian Cowen, Taoiseach, €228,466