Adding up the figures: Westmeath's PAYE tax figures work out as €6,833 a year per citizen

It's an age-old argument – is the Irish economy mostly fuelled by the citizens of the capital city?

The taxpaying hub of Irish society however, lies not in Dublin at all, rather in Co Westmeath – at least when it comes to payment of PAYE from earnings.

Figures from the Department of Finance show that each and every citizen of the Lake County is paying €6,833 in tax every year.

That figure is more than 50% higher than the €4,289 claimed from each resident of Dublin and dwarfs the tax yield in other counties.

However, Co Westmeath's apparent critical importance to the country's tax take is less to do with the average workload of its denizens, and instead lies with a peculiar quirk of the Irish taxation system. A number of significant employers, and primarily the Department of Education, pay their salaries from Athlone. That means the country's 50,000 teachers are all considered resident in Co Westmeath for PAYE purposes and pay their tax there.

The tax take figures do, however, indicate sharp disparities in the amount of money earned by the government in each of the counties. Aside from the abnormally high figures of Co Westmeath and Co Dublin, all other counties pay PAYE at the average rate of between €600 and €2,800 per person.

The third-highest tax yield came from Co Leitrim where €2,845 was paid per person in 2008, the last year for which full figures are available. Next up was Co Kerry with a per capita payment of €2,447 with the urban centres of Cork and Limerick also posting respective tallies of €1,676 and €1,817.

The lowest tax yield of all came from Co Roscommon where each resident paid just €547 in PAYE during that year. Other counties which returned Pay As You Earn of less than €1,000 per capita were Donegal (€620), Mayo (€840), Laois (€609), Tipperary (€927) and Wexford (€937).

Unsurprisingly, it was those counties with the highest proportion of workers in agriculture that posted the lowest PAYE returns, as farmers are assessed differently.

In total, €10.07bn worth of PAYE was paid in 2008 with roughly half of that – or €5.09bn – paid in the Dublin region. Co Westmeath with its unusually high rate of tax-paying contributed €542m of the total.

In five categories of tax, PAYE, non-PAYE, VAT, Corporation Tax, and Capital Gains Tax, the government raked in €31bn, of which €16.76bn was paid in Dublin.

The Department of Finance said it was not possible to give a reliable indicator of economic activity in a county by focusing on tax take and said four key factors tended to skew the figures. A statement said: "The liability of a trader to VAT is generally dealt with by reference to the location of the trader's registered office even though the economic activity may be carried out in another county.

"An employer's liability for PAYE is normally attributed to the county in which wages and salaries are paid, even though the employees may work in different counties.

"Self-employed persons are associated on the tax record with the address at which the business is located."

How Counties Compare

Carlow €1,355

Cavan €1,564

Clare €1,485

Cork €1,676

Donegal €620

Dublin €4,289

Galway €1,964

Kerry €2,447

Kildare €1,626

Kilkenny €1,987

Laois €609

Leitrim €2,845

Limerick €1,817

Longford €944

Louth €1,273

Mayo €840

Meath €1,204

Monaghan €865

Offaly €1,995

Roscommon €547

Sligo €1,681

Tipperary €927

Waterford €1,277

Westmeath €6,833

Wexford €937

Wicklow €1,274