A new Central Bank survey shows that Ireland ranks as the second biggest cheque user in the European Union after France.

The Central Bank says that although the number of cheques written here is declining, Ireland is one of only a few EU member states that still uses cheques for regular payments.

Cheque volumes in Ireland have been declining since 2005 when volumes hit a peak of 131 million. By 2011, this had dropped to 84 million.

The Central Bank said that cheque usage in Ireland by business is widespread, despite the fact that businesses in most other European countries no longer use cheques at all.

Irish firms issued 37 million cheques in 2011 - 44% of all cheques in Ireland. Nine out of ten cheques are issued by small and medium sized enterprises.

Consumers account for more than one third of all cheques issued, which represented nearly 30 million in 2011. 

56% of these are payable to businesses, while 34% are issued by consumers to each other. The Central Bank notes that cheque usage among consumers is dominated by the elderly and the farming sector.

The Central Bank quotes an ECB study which estimates that a cheque costs around €3.55 when all costs are included. ''For a small business this cost includes the 50 cent stamp duty on each cheque, bank charges and postal charges, not the mention the time it takes for staff to process cheque payments,'' commented the Central Bank's Ronnie O'Toole.

He also says that cheque usage is a significant contributor to the country's late payments culture. ''Unless we move from the ''cheque in the post'' culture, the problem of late payments will remain,'' he added.