Mary Coughlan: staff of 18

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 in to help them in their work.

But while over 5,000 public servants were cut from the payroll last 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. The total cost to the taxpayers is over €1m a year.

The 11 staff employed in Coughlan's private office include two 'special advisers' on salaries of over €100,000 a year. Most ministers made do with one, and some have dispensed with 'special advisers' completely.

The Tánaiste's recruitment policy has percolated through her junior ministers' offices, where a total of 47 assistants have been hired. The total cost of these employees is just short of €2.7m a year.

One of these juniors, Conor Lenihan, minister of state for science and technology, has seven assistants employed in his constituency office, including one special adviser (up to April last), while he has three employed in his private Dáil office.

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 just over €1m.

Although 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.

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

While Martin employs 14 assistants at a cost of almost €700,000, not far behind is junior minister Dick 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.