Ireland has been a net contributor to the EU for the past three years, with the state paying €360 million more into the EU budget in 2020 than it received, according to the latest report by European auditors.

Figures show that Ireland's average net contribution from 2018-2020 stood at €377 million.

However, Ireland is expected to receive some €915 million in grants from the EU's Covid recovery fund until the end of next year, and the state also received €2.47 billion in loans from a European Commission fund to protect against unemployment risks during the pandemic.

The European Court of Auditors (ECA), which has published its overall report on EU expenditure in 2020, said Ireland will receive some €1.165 billion in grants from the fund set up to support countries most affected by Brexit.

These receipts are considered separate to EU budget expenditure and will not affect Ireland’s net contribution figure for 2020.

Overall, the annual auditors’ report showed that total EU expenditure in 2020 was €173.3 billion, an increase in €14.2 billion compared to 2019, or some €385 for every EU citizen.

Ireland contributed €2.615 billion towards the EU budget and received €2.255 billion.

"That doesn't take into account the far wider range of benefits associated with our EU membership," said Ireland’s member on the ECA Tony Murphy.

"These [include] the single market, addressing challenges like migration, terrorism and climate change together, as well as relating to better infrastructure and a coordinated EU response to issues such as the Coronavirus pandemic."

As reported by RTÉ News in July, the accounts for 2020 show that the UK's Brexit financial settlement will come to a net amount of €47.5 billion.

"This exceptional occurrence is reflected in the EU’s 2020 annual accounts," said an ECA statement.

"The [European] Commission estimated that, at the balance sheet date, the UK owed the EU €49.6 billion while the EU owed the UK €2.1 billion. Therefore, at the balance sheet date, the EU accounts showed a net receivable due from the UK of €47.5 billion."

The ECA has given the annual accounts a clean bill of health, but says the overall error rate in the spending of EU funds stands at 2.7%. The error "threshold" is 2%.

An error is where money is paid out from the EU budget which should not have been, for example where it is not spent according to relevant EU legislation or in accordance with specific national rules.

Most of the errors occur in cohesion spending, the funding which is designed to allow poorer member states to catch up with richer ones.

The ECA defines cohesion as a "high risk" expenditure area because it is based on a reimbursement mechanism, and is underpinned by complex state aid and public procurement rules.

According to the report, the error rate in cohesion spending was 3.5%.

The biggest slice of EU spending comes under the natural resources heading, including the Common Agriculture and Common Fisheries policies, as well as spending on climate change.

The report found that research spending is an area where there are considerable errors (3.9%), often related to ineligible expenditure such as overstated personnel costs.

Ireland’s member of the court of auditors Tony Murphy said universities in receipt of EU research funding may not prioritise the administrative and financial data of research projects.

"They may not have very good systems in place to identify and allocate the relevant personnel costs to the specific project," said Mr Murphy.

"What we will see is maybe too much time being allocated to projects and then we can see one person could be over allocated, in other words, more than 100% of their time would be charged across a couple of projects."