Public service pay bill reached record high of €23.5bn last year

Women held almost 60% of top roles in public sector in 2020

Public service pay and pensions and the number employed rose to new peaks in 2021, but the numbers of women now getting top jobs in the public service has increased substantially in recent years.

However, it has a low proportion of younger workers and a “relatively” low share of those aged 55 and older, the Public Service Trends report of December 2021 said.

Public service pay was cut after the 2008 economic crash. In 2008, spending on both had reached a peak of €18.7 billion, but it fell back to €16.2 billion by 2014.

However, it has increased every year since 2014 to reach a record last year of €23.5 billion, the report found, with pensions for State workers now costing €3 billion annually, or 13 per cent of the total pay bill.


Average weekly public sector earnings increased between 2017 and 2021, while job numbers have risen, too. From a 2008 peak, the number dropped by 10 per cent from 320,000 to 288,000 in 2013.

“The number of people employed in the public service has risen since 2013, and there are now almost 25 per cent more employed than there were in 2013. In 2021 the numbers stood at 356,000,” says the report.

Last year, there were 130,000 health workers of all types, along with 115,000 involved in education. Only the defence and local authorities had fewer staff last year than they did in 2008, before crisis cutbacks were imposed.

Senior women

Women held between about a quarter and a third of all top posts up to 2017, the report said, but by 2018 they held 64 per cent. After a drop to 38 per cent in 2019, it increased again to 59 per cent in 2020.

The proportion of women in senior and middle management positions in Ireland’s central government is “around the average” for Europe.

“For example, women fill just over one-third of senior management positions. This is some way below the level of just over half of positions filled by women in Latvia, Sweden and Greece.”

Ireland has fewer female judges than most European countries: “In 2018, 38 per cent of the judges of first-instance courts, and 50 per cent of the judges of second-instance courts, were women,” it said.

The lack of younger workers is explained by the post-2008 recruitments bans, which were eased only in recent years. Sixteen per cent were aged 18-34 in 2020, up slightly on the 13 per cent figure in 2015.

Similarly, the proportion of over-55s is lower than other countries, with just 27 per cent, explained by the post-2008 offers to older employees to leave before their due date.

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times