Senior and junior ministers employ over 300 public servants to assist them in their private Dáil and constituency offices at a total cost to the taxpayer of over €16m a year.

This is despite warnings from Taoiseach Brian Cowen to ministers to cut down on the large number of private secretaries, drivers and advisers hired to help them in their private and constituency offices.

But while over 5,000 public servants have been cut from the payroll this year, many in frontline services, most ministers have failed to cut back on their private backroom staff.

Tánaiste and enterprise minister Mary Coughlan tops the list for hired help with 11 employed in her private Dáil office and seven in her constituency office in Donegal, at a total cost to the taxpayer of over €1m a year. The 11 staff employed in Coughlan's private office includes two 'special advisers' on salaries of over €100,000 a year.

Most ministers do with one and some have dispensed with 'special advisers' completely.

And the Tánaiste's recruitment policy has percolated through her junior ministries offices, with a total of 47 staff hired to help her and the three junior ministries under her, at a total cost to the taxpayer of just short of €2.7m a year.

Conor Lenihan, minister of state for science and technology, for example, has seven assistants employed in his constituency office, including one special adviser (up to April last), while he has just three employed in his private Dáil office, with no special adviser among them.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen is next on the hired help list, with 12 in his private office and seven in his constituency office, at a cost of over €1m.

Though most of the Department of Health's workload has been outsourced to the HSE, health minister Mary Harney and her four junior ministers employ 40 public servants between them at a total cost of just over €2m.

Foreign affairs minister Micheál Martin, and his two junior ministers Dick Roche and Peter Power, employ over 30 helpers between them at a total cost to the exchequer of over €1.6m.

Martin himself employs 14 assistants at a cost of almost €700,000; not far behind is Roche, who employs four assistants in his private office and six in his constituency office at an annual cost of just short of €500,000.